Chicago residents, some who didn’t even know the family, turned out en masse Tuesday morning for the funeral of 6-month-old Jonylah Watkins, who was killed last week when someone opened fire on her father as she sat in his lap in the driver’s seat of a minivan.
It was a tearful occasion at New Beginnings Church as a standing room only throng packed the sanctuary, with another crowd gathered outside. The baby’s casket was surrounded by flowers and stuffed animals.
Chicago Bulls superstar guard Derrick Rose has said he would pay for Jonylah’s funeral.
The pastor of New Beginnings, Corey Brooks, said he’s buried other victims of Chicago’s gun violence at his church. But. . .
“It’s the youngest child I’ve ever had to be shot and killed, murdered,” he said. “That is totally different than anything I’ve ever experienced before and something I never, ever want to experience again.”
Police updated the details of the shooting, originally saying the baby was shot five times while her father was changing her diaper in the passenger seat. Rather, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said the gunman approached from the passenger side and Jonylah was shot once while in her father’s lap as he sat in the driver’s seat.
When the bullet struck Jonylah, it damaged several organs, and she died the next morning. Her father, Jonathan Watkins, was critically wounded in the attack, but he was able to attend the funeral, standing over her open casket with his head bowed and lingering there for about 10 minutes alongside his wife. The 29-year-old, who had given Jonylah the nickname “Smooch,” wore a white hooded sweatshirt decorated with words in memory of the girl.
Jonylah’s mother, Judy Watkins, was shot while she was carrying the unborn Jonylah. She had been working a shift at McDonald’s when Jonylah was shot. Her and Jonathan had recently gotten married.
McCarthy said Jonathan, who has gang ties and a rap sheet of 39 arrests, was clearly the intended target. Although he is cooperating with police, McCarthy said he needs to do more.
“At this point, we think there’s a lot more that he can help us with, but he is, in fact, cooperating with the investigation,” he said. “We think that there’s more that he can tell us.”
But McCarthy had no doubt police would find the shooter. There is an $11,000 reward being offered for information leading to the culprit’s arrest.
“Jonylah, affectionately known as ‘Smooch,’ was loved and adored by many,” her funeral program read. “Jonylah was the apple of her parents’ eyes. Jonylah had an infectious smile that continually warmed her mother’s heart.
“We can’t put this on the police, we can’t put this on anybody but ourselves,” Alderman Willie Cochran said in a booming voice. “We have to make that change.
“And I want the killer to be apprehended,” he added to loud applause. “Somebody’s going to pay for this child being killed. Bring him forth!”
Jonylah’s grandmother, Mary Young, read a poem during the service about stopping violence.
“My neighbors of Chicago, what have thou done? You brought in the darkness and removed the sun,” she said. “It’s now obvious the time has come when killing one another will no longer be tolerated by anyone.”