Family, friends and community members gathered at King Solomon Missionary Baptist Church Saturday to say goodbye to Tyree Smith, the 16-year-old Eastern High School student who was killed while waiting for his school bus on Sept. 22.
They remembered Tyree as a loving son and brother, a dedicated pet owner and a classmate who could brighten anyone’s day.
His family and community said they are dedicated to seeking justice for his death, and to ending Louisville’s epidemic of gun violence.
Tyree was the victim of an early morning drive-by shooting that also injured two fellow students. Police are still looking for the person or people responsible.
‘He’ll light up your day’
“Tyree was the most loving person ever,” Tyree’s mother Sherita Smith said from the altar of King Solomon Missionary Baptist Church. Almost everyone in the crowd of more than 100 gathered was wearing red, Tyree’s favorite color, and the color of the Louisville Cardinals, his favorite sports team.
His coffin was also red.
His mother described how much he loved his younger sister and brother, and a pet lizard “that he cared more about than anything.”
“He loved his lizard, but he was scared of bugs!” she laughed.
Neighbors often commented on seeing Tyree walking the family dog, while carrying his lizard, she said.
He was caring, his mother said, recounting the time he once gave a woman on the street two dollars out of his pocket because she lost her purse.
He was responsible, family members said. And a hard worker, who got a job at McDonald’s when he turned 16. And he was stylish.
“That’s mister fly guy himself,” one cousin said. The day he died, his mother said she got a package he ordered: a purple belt. She said she plans to donate it because she believes that’s what Tyree would have wanted.
“I just want everybody to look at stuff the way Ty would. I know it’s hard right now, but we’re going to get through this,” she said.
Dozens of teenagers showed up for the service, many of them Tyree’s friends and classmates at Eastern.
Seventeen-year-old Ariel McElroy first met Tyree in the sixth grade. He was a lot smaller than other boys his age, McElroy said. She smiled, remembering the oversized middle school uniform T-shirts that came down to his knees.
“He was always talkative and making jokes,” she said.
“He could make friends with anybody,” Tyree’s former classmate Brooklyn Clark, 17, said. “He’ll light up your day…If you don’t know nobody, he’ll introduce you to people. He will make sure you feel welcome anywhere.”
‘Ty woke us up’
Tyree Smith was one of 151 people killed in criminal homicides this year, according to data from the Louisville Metro Police Department, and the 21st child to be killed, according to a count from the anti-violence advocacy group Christopher 2X Game Changers.
Many family and community members who spoke during the service expressed dismay at the toll violence is taking on the city, and urged action.
“We gotta come together. We gotta put these guns down,” Sherita Smith said. “I want to make sure this don’t happen to another mother — another mother don’t have to be here in my shoes, burying their child.”
“It’s now time for our city leaders, our city’s officials, our community to stand up, speak out and cry out. But then demand justice, demand results, demand just — change,” said Jamon Brown, a former NFL-player-turned-Louisville-activist. He runs the Jamon Brown Foundation, which supports communities struggling with poverty, violence and youth homelessness.
Stachelle Bussey, a minister and community activist who led the service, said she believes there is hope.
“I know we’ve seen some rough days in this city, but I feel a turnaround. Ty woke us up. He ignited something in us,” Bussey said.
Tyree’s mother said she will continue to seek justice for Tyree. And she finds comfort in knowing her son is with God.
“I know where his soul is. His soul is with God,” she said. “There’s no way he moved the way Tyree moved, and been such a good person, and not be with God.”