Remembering a life before its violent end
Jeremy “J-Berg” LaMar Turner would have turned 22 on Wednesday, if his life hadn’t ended in violence in 2011.
Turner’s family and friends gathered with community members in the West End for a vigil honoring his life and to celebrate his birthday.
The vigil, held outside his family’s house, was sponsored by the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham. As with other vigils remembering the lives ended in Durham by violence, local clergy said prayers, people held hands and gathered in a circle and loved ones shared memories.
Just a few blocks from downtown and Duke University, the sound of a passing train could be heard as about 100 people gathered in the late evening light in the front yard and on the street.
Rev. Bruce Puckett of Duke Chapel said we “cry out against death and violence and claim Jeremy as someone more than the way he died.”
Turner, 19, and CaRon Adriel Allen, 17, apparently shot each other in the early minutes of May 17, 2011, according to the Durham Police Department. It happened near Allen’s home off Lynn Road in Eastern Durham County. Both died. Allen would have turned 20 on July 14 this year.
At the vigil for Turner, his grandmother Juanita McNeil spoke about the last time she saw him. They had had a falling out, and as he smiled and said “Hi, Granny,” she regrets being angry when she looked at him. He had been a sweet child, she said, and was a people person who loved to eat.
The majority of her memories of him are really good, McNeil said.
A neighbor whose son played with Turner growing up said she remembers the smile he always had on his face. Spence King, a cousin of Turner’s mother, Bonnie Turner, said Jeremy Turner was more like a nephew.
“That was one of the most hurtful things in the world, the way that he left us,” King said. He said he still misses him, and that Bonnie Turner needs support now more than ever. She visits her son’s grave in Beechwood Cemetery often.
Bonnie Turner wore a T-shirt with her son’s image. A friend, Wilma Liverpool, read aloud a letter Bonnie wrote to her son.
In the letter, Turner talked about the birth of her “healthy, beautiful, bouncing baby boy” in 1991. He looked up at her as if to say, “I’m here, Mommy,” Turner wrote. As a little boy, he hugged and kissed her and was never shy about telling her he loved her, even as he got older.
The past 26 months since her son’s death have been the toughest time in her life, she wrote, and she still opens the door to his room, hoping to find him there.
“Death is a heartache no one can heal; love is a memory no one can steal,” Turner wrote.
Then her mother, McNeil, spoke again, asking those gathered to think about the families left hurting after violence.
McNeil urged people to say something to someone they see doing something wrong. She does. Not saying anything tells them it’s OK, she said.
“We’ve got to change the way things have been going,” McNeil said. “I’m serious, young adults. Be careful.”
Rev. Tammy Rodman prayed to God that they would bind up the useless murders and bind up the useless violence.
Jeremy Turner’s sister Seneca Royal passed out red-and-white star balloons to family and friends. They let them drift up to the sky one by one, the final balloon a red heart. He had four more sisters and two brothers.
Earlier, Royal read a poem about her brother. It began with: “You weren’t the perfect person, but you were the perfect you.” She talked about their friendship, laughter and tears. Her final verse: “My love for you will never die, and you will forever be my angel in the sky.”
They cut cake to celebrate Turner’s birthday, while in the distance the sound of another train passed through Durham, in the fading light of the day.
The Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham will hold another vigil at 7 p.m. on Sunday at Durham Central Park, this time for JeJuan “Jay Jay” Taylor Jr., who was shot and killed in April at age 19. There have been 15 homicides in Durham so far this year.