ST. LOUIS (AP) — Eleven days after being gunned down near an alley, David Davis didn't get a traditional funeral procession of family and friends.
After bullets began flying outside the mortuary during his service, killing two men and critically injuring another, the 27-year-old father of three went to his grave with just the undertakers and the police who escorted his hearse present.
Police were still trying to unravel what led gunfire to erupt the previous day outside the Reliable Funeral home, where, investigators said, a dispute among mourners spilled outside and culminated in the crackle of gunfire.
That anyone felt the need or desire to take guns to a funeral service was particularly upsetting for activist pastor B.T. Rice, who has tried for years to stem gun violence in St. Louis, particularly in poorer, largely black neighborhoods, including the one where Reliable does business.
“Just to think you can't go to a funeral and show your respect for the dead without worrying about that,” Rice said. “Just to think you can't go to a funeral any more and feel like you got to stay closed up in your own cocoon just to stay safe. That ought to be a place where a truce could be called.”
Police initially suggested that the gunfire was gang-related, connected to the unsolved Nov. 19 killing of Davis, who, investigators said, was shot in the head and torso. He died at the scene.
The gunfire caused chaos inside the chapel, investigators said, where people dropped for cover as bullets struck windows, walls and gutters. The funeral home's 82-year-old owner dove underneath his desk and some mourners scrambled out of the service, tending to the wounded on the driveway where blood later had to be hosed off.
The shooting was reminiscent of one in St. Louis in December 2007, when two gunmen fired at a crowd outside another local funeral home during services for a murder victim. A 30-year-old mourner died five days after being shot in the neck, shoulder and groin and a second victim survived two gunshot wounds to a foot.
And it left Rice, an often outspoken and very public pastor, numb and fumbling for words.
“It really is disturbing. That thing just bothered me so bad I barely slept much,” said Rice, the New Horizon Christian Church pastor who has been active in police affairs while serving as a vice president of St. Louis County's NAACP branch. “I'm just tired of eulogizing young African-American kids [killed by violence]. You see life just wasting away. As a minister in the African-American community, I dread to know some pastor will have to say some last words for someone senselessly taken out and destroyed.”
St. Louis Police Chief Dan Isom, who called the violence outside Reliable “completely outrageous and unacceptable,” has said he would deploy the force's mobile reserve unit to heighten police visibility in the city's crime-plagued areas — at least until a long-term plan is crafted.
Fueling Rice's worries about the prevalence of handguns was that the gunfight at Reliable happened on a particularly deadly day in the St. Louis region.
Just hours earlier, in eastern Missouri's Bonne Terre community about 60 miles south of St. Louis, police said, 25-year-old Nathan Fortner opened fire at a duplex, killing his former girlfriend, her mother and that woman's boyfriend before turning the gun on himself as police closed in.