Hundreds mourn 13-year-old girl killed by stray bullet while dancing in living room

Amaria Jones was killed over Father’s Day weekend. She had just finished sixth grade at John Hay Community Academy.

SHARE Hundreds mourn 13-year-old girl killed by stray bullet while dancing in living room
Pallbearers carry the casket to the hearse for 13-year-old Amaria Jones after her funeral at Greater St. John Bible Church, 1256 N. Waller Ave., on the West Side, Friday morning, July 3, 2020. Amaria, whose casket was adorned with her photos, was one of 12 kids among 104 shot, 15 fatally, as citywide gun violence spiked over Father’s Day weekend.

Pallbearers carry the casket to the hearse for 13-year-old Amaria Jones after her funeral at Greater St. John Bible Church, 1256 N. Waller Ave., Friday morning, July 3, 2020. Amaria was one of 12 kids among 104 shot, 15 fatally, as citywide gun violence spiked over Father’s Day weekend.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Teenage girls sobbed, grown men held onto each other and others yearned to relive sweet memories Friday as they mourned 13-year-old Amaria Jones at a packed West Side church.

Amaria was killed last month when a stray bullet pierced her body while she danced in the living room of her family’s Austin home. The teenager was one of the 104 victims of gun violence over a violent Father’s Day weekend in Chicago. She was also among several children who have been shot or killed in the city in the past two weeks.

“Showing me a dance, she got shot in the throat and fell to the floor and reached out to me. And there was nothing I could do. Nothing,” Amaria’s mother, Lawanda Jones, said through tears outside the Greater St. John Bible Church. “To watch your baby bleed to death — my life will never be the same. Never.”

Most of the crowd Friday was dressed in Amaria’s favorite color — purple. Some mourners, wearing shirts, masks and headbands with the teenager’s nickname, “Ya-Ya,” had to pause in the lobby, bracing themselves for what they would see inside: Amaria in a purple casket covered with photos, next to the teenager’s No. 12 basketball jersey.

Because of coronavirus restrictions, a 100-plus crowd stood outside listening to organ music through the windows, waiting for the service to end so they could go inside Rev. Ira Acree’s church, 1256 N. Waller Ave., to pay their respects.

A distraught Jones left the service a few minutes early, sobbing with relatives at her side. Jones remembered her daughter as the most energetic person in the room, doing everything she could to make friends and family happy.

“She loved to see people smiling,” Jones said. “As long as she made you smile, she was alright, she did her job.”

While Amaria and her mom watched television June 20, Amaria said she wanted to show off a new dance she learned on TikTok. That’s when shots rang out and Amaria was hit. Two teenage boys on the front porch were also injured but survived.

“I wish it was me. I’ve seen this world. She had yet to see it. And it was taken from her,” Jones said. “Black lives do matter. And I want justice. Justice needs to be served. Because what coward would sit up there and shoot on a porch full of kids. And you’re in your own house and you’re not safe? If you can’t be safe in your house, where can you be safe at?”

Amaria had finished sixth grade at John Hay Community Academy just two days before she was killed. She had always dreamed of being a lawyer. Members of a local Black lawyers group who had heard about Amaria’s ambitions announced Friday that they would create a scholarship in her name and make her an honorary member of the organization.

“When we heard about the news of Amaria, we were devastated,” Kendra Spearman, a founder of the Chicago Lawyers Collective, said at the funeral Friday. “When we heard that she wanted to grow up and be an attorney, we were further devastated because we need more black attorneys. We need more women attorneys. … We needed Amaria.”

Amaria’s older sister, Mercedes Jones, hasn’t felt the same since the deadly shooting. Sitting in the front pew, a few feet away from her sister’s body, Mercedes let out a scream when the casket was closed before the service. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry,” she yelled.

Mercedes, flanked by her three brothers, remembered the sisterly fights she had with Amaria when she would steal Mercedes’ iron, nail polish and clothes.

“She was the perfect little sister, and I didn’t really realize that until I was here. And I hate that,” Mercedes said. “They told me my little sister was gone. From that moment forward, I don’t know why, and I ask God to help me, but I have so much anger built up in me right now. I get mad at the littlest things.”

Brandon Wilkerson met Amaria at her school when he went to recruit boys for his youth basketball program. Amaria jumped into a conversation and said she wanted to join. Soon, “she was like family,” said Wilkerson, the head coach of Amaria’s basketball team.

“We just took her under our wing,” Wilkerson said. “On the court she was just energy and fun to be around. She loved her teammates. Just her vibe. She just brings the best out of everybody. She brings the fun out of everybody.”

Since the teenager was killed, Amaria’s team has taken a moment of silence before every practice and will keep doing so for the rest of the year.

“Look how many people love you,” Wilkerson said, reciting out loud what he wished he could tell Amaria one last time. “Look at the impact that you had. If she was here right now, we’d be on the basketball court. Look at how many lives you touched.”

Outside waiting for Amaria’s casket to be carried to the hearse, Amaria’s mom was in disbelief that she was burying her daughter. She cried that she’d “never get her back.”

“I just want to hold my baby one more time and treasure the moments that we did share together,” Jones said. “So I’m asking all the parents, give your kids the flowers while they’re still living. ‘Cus when they’re dead and gone, they can’t smell them. They can’t see them bloom.”

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