Chicago mourns 6-month-old 'angel' killed in shooting

Hundreds paid their respects to Jonylah Watkins in Chicago Tuesday. The 6-month-old was fatally shot on March 11.

Story highlights

  • Those at young Jonylah Watkins' funeral see ultrasound and newborn photos
  • A family friend says, "I just wish we could do something about it"
  • A pastor says people shouldn't view South Side residents as "animals"
  • 6-month-old Jonylah was hit by a single bullet; police say the intended victim was her dad

The killing of 6-month-old Jonylah Watkins has been held up as a new low in Chicago's struggle to keep senseless death off its streets, as a rallying cry to do something about gun violence and as proof that no one -- even the most innocent among us -- is safe.

On Tuesday, it was also about Jonylah.

Hundreds braved the cold on the city's South Side, standing in a line that wrapped around the New Beginnings Church as they waited to pay their respects. Some people, many of whom had never met Jonylah or her family, broke down in tears when her hearse passed by.

Inside the church, more tears flowed.

Mourners walked past the infant's open casket, as pictures flashed behind on a screen behind -- an ultrasound, from baby showers, of her as a newborn. To the side sat stuffed animals, including one large pink teddy bear, and a drawing of Jonylah with the words, "God's angel."

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"It's just very, very sad," said Victor Brunner, a friend of the family. "I just wish we could do something about it."

Beyond remembering the little girl, doing something in the wake of her violent death was a prevailing theme at the funeral.

Some of that message involved taking personal responsibility; some of it involved coming together, as a community, to reject gun violence.

Brunner said progress might start with being more willing to "snitch" to police about those behind shootings that have ravaged his city in recent months. The church's pastor, Corey Brooks, told mourners this incident should show people they must always be prepared for "tragedy" to come to their doorstep.

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Jeneen Thomas, an activist who did not know Jonylah's family but felt compelled to come out Tuesday, says she hoped the pointless killing of a baby girl, as she sat on her father's lap, wakes people up.

She hopes that there won't be more parents like Jonylah's, faced with the horrible task of burying their child.

"We sort of left our children behind and to fend for themselves," Thomas said. "And it's time for us to take our children back."

Some 506 people were killed in Chicago last year, according to local crime statistics, up from 433 in 2011. The torrid pace continued into 2013, with 43 homicides in January, and after a drop in February, they've picked up once again.

Chicago's record murder rate

Jonylah became part of those grisly statistics when one bullet struck her March 11, not several as initially reported, as she sat with her father in a vehicle on the South Side.

That bullet damaged several parts of her small body, and she died the next day.

Her father, Jonathan Watkins -- believed to be the target of the shooting, according to police -- was also hit. Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said Watkins has been cooperating with authorities, adding that police have surveillance footage of a van in which the gunman sped away after the shooting.

Despite his injuries, Watkins attended his daughter's funeral. Mourners also saw images of him holding his baby girl.

Brooks, the church's pastor, said he hopes Tuesday's outpouring of support -- and the positive steps he hopes Chicagoans will take in their own lives, and those of their neighbors, to prevent such violence -- will show the world their suffering and their dedication to stand behind one another.

"The world thinks that there's nothing but animals that live on the South Side, but we've proved to them today that we are real people ... with real experiences," he said. "And we hurt just like they hurt."