A candlelight vigil for Jaleel Raglin, 16, who was gunned down Tuesday, drew more than 200 people to Highland Park on Thursday night to remember the slain teen's life and to spread a simple message:
"Stop the violence. It starts with you."
Those words were repeated by dozens of friends and family members, some speaking so softly or sobbing so heavily that their words could barely be understood.
Jaleel was shot in the head at the Matador North Apartments on Winburn Drive, where he had gone to visit his 4-week-old son, Kaiden. Police arrested Malik Shabazz Johnson, 20, several hours later. Johnson has pleaded not guilty to murder.
Thursday's vigil was the first time Jaleel's parents, Tammy Adams and Charles Raglin, spoke publicly about their son's death.
They said they hoped the killing of Jaleel would teach his friends to stay away from guns and renounce violence. They also said they hoped it would inspire parents to keep a closer eye on their children and talk to them.
"We need to push to these kids that they are the change," Raglin said. "That's the only way this is going to stop, is these kids have got to stop it."
Adams, addressing the group, took issue with media portrayals of her son. He wasn't "some gangbanger," she said. "He was a kid."
The Herald-Leader reported Thursday that Jaleel had dropped out of school and had gotten involved with a gang. Pictures and videos posted online showed him wearing a red bandana and identifying as an "East Side Blood."
But that was just a persona, Adams said, designed to make Jaleel seem tough to his friends. Raglin said his son made his Facebook page private so his parents wouldn't see it.
"He knows I would shut it down if I saw that," he said.
Jaleel withdrew from school so he could get his GED and get a head start on a career, his mother said. She acknowledged he had been arrested before, but she said it was for minor offenses such as running away from home.
Jaleel changed his ways overnight when Kaiden was born, she said. "Jaleel was different. It was in his talk and his walk."
It was clear Thursday that those who knew Jaleel loved him regardless of past mistakes; he was remembered as a loyal, kindhearted kid who wanted more than anything else to set a good example for his son.
Demisha Kirksey, Kaiden's aunt, recalled the day Jaleel was killed. She found him sleeping on the floor beside his baby's crib. Kirksey woke him up before she left for work. "He stood up and he rubbed on Kaiden, then he went back to sleep on the floor," she said.
Raglin said he would try to use his son's death as an example to inspire at-risk youth to make positive changes. It is a message he hopes to spread nationally.
In the meantime, he said, he would try to heal.
"I could not wait to see the man that he was going to be," Raglin said, fighting tears. "I know the life that he was having out there, but those are the kids — the ones that have a little trouble in their lives — that grow up to do really good things. Because they know the troubled path."