Father eulogizes slain son

More than 1,000 pay respects to 18-year-old in Hill District church

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First came the mourners, more than 1,000 of them, flooding the pews at the Wesley Center AME Zion Church, standing if they couldn't sit.

There was music and singing and prayer. A video montage of Jeron Xavier Grayson's short life played upon a screen.

The crowd swayed to a gospel song that reached a frenzied peak. Then, the Rev. Glenn Grayson clasped the microphone and stepped to the podium to deliver "a word of hope."

A force in the city for anti-violence, the pastor who had delivered the eulogies for many young homicide victims was about to give another, this time for his own son. A voice subdued and somber in the days after Jeron was killed now boomed over the applause that greeted it and echoed against the church walls.

"Jeron Xavier Grayson was too fly to copy," he said of his 18-year-old son, an innocent bystander shot to death at a party near California University of Pennsylvania early Sunday. He was visiting friends on his first trip home from Hampton University in Virginia.

At home, they called him "Lil' G."

"Who knows what the 'G' stands for?" the pastor asked. "The young folks in the house, this is for you. I need you to repeat after me: the 'G' stands for 'I'll never touch a gun in my life!' "

The crowd roared.

"Jeron came home," he said. "He wanted to come home."

The Rev. Grayson's words were a climactic end to Jeron's service, which fulfilled its billing as a "celebration" of his life by the hundreds of people he touched. Among the droves were clergy and classmates, strangers and family, relatives of other violence victims and a uniformed police officer who came inside to pay his respects.

Members of the Pittsburgh Schenley High School football team, on which Jeron was a star, wore letter jackets and laid the No. 7 jersey at the base of his casket. Kendal McBroom, president of Hampton University's Class of 2014, said he'd only recently met Jeron but "I see how many lives he touched here and pretty much across the East Coast."

Ushers passed around boxes of tissues. But tears gave way to laughter as Jeron's friends told stories of better days, of his "swagger" and flair for Polo and Burberry, of his glowing grin. They spoke of his aspiration to expand his father's ministry worldwide.

"To think that his 18 years might have such a residual effect on so many lives," said the Rev. George McKain II, who encouraged the group to dance and sing.

The Graysons said they were indelibly moved by the outpouring of support. Usually, they are the ones extending comfort to the grieving.

"For the phone calls, the letters, the flowers, the food, for those of you who took every imaginable mode of transportation from the north, south, east and west, they say, thank you," Bruce Stanback said on their behalf.

If the Graysons were touched, so were their supporters by the pastor's words.

"What was empowering was his strength to stand up there during his time of grief," said Brittani Harris, a University of Pittsburgh student who took off from work for the funeral. "You could really see a movement in his heart. You could see his aura. That shows true foundation in God."

Sadie Gurman: sgurman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878.


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