ST. LOUIS — The young girls’ sobs echoed through the church Saturday as they remembered their brother and friend, Xavier Usanga, 7, shot and killed earlier this month while the kids played together in their backyard.
“We planned a whole lifetime together,” said Xavier’s sister, Trinity Usanga, 10.
Her head was just visible above the podium as she read a letter to her brother in front of about 100 mourners at Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church, the Usangas’ longtime parish.
“I miss your smile, your laugh, your hair,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that you were gone.”
“Why would someone take your life away?”
Xavier Usanga was fatally shot in the 3500 block of North 14th Street just after 5 p.m. on Aug. 12 when a fight between two men nearby became violent.
Federal prosecutors say a St. Louis man admitted to firing a gunshot that killed Xavier. The man, who was in court in an unrelated case, has not been charged but remains in police custody.
The second-grader, who was killed the day before he would have started classes at Clay Elementary School, was one of 12 children fatally shot in the city of St. Louis since April. Across the region — from Franklin County to the Metro East — 17 children have been shot and killed this year.
The most recent shooting, the 12th, happened Friday night. Jurnee Thompson, 8, was killed in a quadruple shooting shortly after fights broke out at a football exhibition at Soldan High School.
In his remarks, the Rev. Darryl Gray referenced the shooting as he called on the those gathered at Holy Trinity — which included Third Ward Alderman Brandon Bosley, a friend of the Usangas, police Lt. Col. Rochelle Jones and St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams — not to let Xavier’s life be in vain.
“Xavier’s few years seemed to have touched so many of us in so many ways,” Gray said. “In just a few years, he brought a community together to force us to talk about difficult issues.”
“I pray that his death will not be in vain,” he said, looking toward Dawn Usanga, Xavier’s mother. “I pray, Dawn, that people have heard you, and they’ve heard your cry, and they’ve heard your prayer. I know those of us gathered here today have.”
Xavier — the youngest of six children, and the only boy — was born Feb. 1, 2012 and baptized two months later at Holy Trinity, at 3519 North 14th Street.
“From the day he started smiling, he never stopped,” said Sister Janice Munier, parish life coordinator.
Bosley recalled one night during a father-son camping trip when Xavier and his young sisters refused to go to sleep.
“They said, ‘Well, when are you going to sleep?” Bosley said. He explained to Xavier that he and the other adults had to stay awake to watch the 7-year-old and his sisters.
“’And they said, ‘We’ll stay up and watch your back,’” Bosley said. “That’s the kind of person Xavier was.”
Two of Xavier’s sisters, Trinity and Angel, and a close friend, De’ashe Sanders, 11, shared memories they had with Xavier: playing video games, running, jumping and skipping outside, visiting Bosley.
They taught Xavier how to ride a bike, how to write better and how to do math. They all shared a secret: that Xavier could sing really well.
“You are really sweet,” De’ashe said. “You also smiled a lot. You are sweet like honey.”
And they shared the heartbreak they endured, the flashbacks they are struggling to shake after witnessing him being shot. When they paused, the space was filled with the sound of people throughout the chapel crying.
“When I saw you laying there on the ground, my heart stopped,” said Angel Usanga, 12. “My happiness was going away. It was getting dark outside, and I was mad inside.”
“Even when people ask me if I’m OK, I’m not really OK. I’m sad and broken.”
For the holidays, Angel Usanga is asking for one thing; her brother to come back. But she knows that is not possible, she said.
“I hope, I wish that you could just come back,” she said. “I lay in my bed now and look up and say ‘Where is Xavier?’ Then I remember.”
“I feel like one of these days I’m going to wake up to your smile. And that everything will be fine.”
Gray also shared a memory of Xavier from the community-organized camping trip. As the night stretched into the early morning hours, Xavier walked out of his tent to grab a drink, Gray said.
Gray followed and looked over the boy as he walked away from the fire toward a table where the drinks were. Gray was catching up to Xavier when the 7-year-old turned around and started back toward the tent where his sister awaited.
“He never missed a step,” Gray said. “He didn’t slow down, didn’t speed up. He never said a word.”
“He merely looked at me and smiled.”
Shake off your afternoon slump with the oft-shared and offbeat news of the day, hand-brewed by our online news editor, Mandy St. Amand.