Jazmine Barnes was an exuberant, 7-year-old girl who loved to dance, sing and dress up. She dreamed of being a teacher.
On Tuesday, friends and loved ones of the second-grader gathered in Houston to say their final goodbyes to a relentlessly upbeat girl whose violent death prompted spirited rallies and the hashtag #JusticeforJazmine.
Jazmine, who was black, was killed a few days after Christmas outside a Walmart in a drive-by-shooting initially investigated as a possible hate crime. A week later, authorities concluded her death was a case of mistaken identity. The determination eased racial tensions but did little to diminish the grief that gripped the community.
“Add Jazmine’s name to a long list of innocent children killed when gunfire erupts where they are supposed to feel safe — outside their home, in places of worship, at school, or riding in the car with their mom to the store,” the Houston Chronicle wrote in a sobering editorial on gun violence.
Thousands of students in the Sheldon school district were urged to wear purple to honor the Monahan Elementary student. Parents were notified that children going to the funeral should be checked out through the school office and would receive an excused absence. Grief counselors were available to students at Jazmine’s school.
At the expansive Community of Faith Church, mourners lined up to pay their respects at Jazmine’s open casket. Mayor Sylvester Turner and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee were among dignitaries. Former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal helped pay for funeral expenses.
Jazmine’s mother, LaPorsha Washington, was driving to store with her three daughters before dawn Dec. 30 when they stopped at a red light. Another vehicle pulled up and someone began shooting. Jazmine was shot in the head, Washington was wounded in the arm and another daughter suffered injuries from broken glass.
“I turned around and my 7-year-old was shot in the head,” Washington said later.
Family members had identified the attacker as a white male driving a red pickup. Jazmine’s mother said she thought the attack was a hate crime. The case drew a national spotlight, and a “Justice for Jazmine” rally drew hundreds of supporters Saturday.
“It is going to be justice for her, and I feel it in the bottom of my heart,” an emotional Washington said at the rally. “There are too many people out here looking for this man.”
Jackson Lee said Jazmine’s death was “no longer a Houston case,” but a global one.
“Do not be afraid to call this what it seems to be — a hate crime,” she said.
Later that day, however, authorities arrested one black man and said another was a suspect in the attack. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said video shows a red pickup was in the area near the shooting, but evidence indicates it was not involved in the attack.
He stressed that the family wasn’t involved in anything “nefarious.”
“You are talking about small children, they witnessed something very traumatic,” he said. “Very likely the last thing they did see was the red truck.”
The suspects mistook Washington’s car for a vehicle belonging to rivals they had fought in a bar a few hours earlier, prosecutor Samantha Knecht said at a court hearing this week. Eric Black Jr., 20, the alleged driver, is charged with capital murder in the case.
Gonzalez said the case against the second suspect, the suspected shooter, was still being developed.
Alxis Dilbert, 15, was Jazmine’s oldest sister and was in the car when the shooting took place. She said Jazmine was so dedicated to teaching that she practiced with their 6-year-old sister – and that Jazmine liked to boss people around.
Eight children and teens die every day from gun violence, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence reports. Almost 40 more survive being shot. Gonzalez said a Jazmine’s death has prompted “positive dialogue” on race relations and on gun violence.
He urged the public to “put the guns down.”
“We do not need any senseless killings,” he said. “We don’t want any more families to suffer like this family is suffering.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: The buoyant life and tragic death of 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes – her funeral is today