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Funeral for teenage girl shot to death Memorial Day weekend: ‘She inspired me’

Robert Hood (right) hugs his aunt after the funeral services for 17-year-old China Marie Lyons-Upshaw, who was shot to death over Memorial Day Weekend, at Leak & Sons Funeral Homes, Wednesday evening, May 30, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Roughly 400 people came out to celebrate 17-year-old China Marie Lyons-Upshaw’s life Wednesday evening, so many that the South Side funeral services were standing room only and attendees were listening from the hallway.

China Marie Lyons-Upshaw | Facebook photo

“Right now, this is not a time for anger, resentment, hostility or anything. She brought us together, we’re here together to celebrate her life,” said her father, Darryn Hayes, 56, who spoke at the funeral held at Leak & Sons Funeral Home, 7838 S. Cottage Grove.

Lyons-Upshaw was shot in the chest at 9:02 p.m. Saturday inside an apartment in the 800 block of East 49th Street in the Bronzeville neighborhood, according to Chicago Police.

Witnesses told investigators that a man was “playing with a handgun” when it “fell to the ground and discharged,” police said. The girl was pronounced dead at the scene.

Nicholas Holas, 19, eventually turned himself in for the shooting and was charged with one felony count of involuntary manslaughter, police said. He has been ordered held at Cook County Jail on a $100,000 bond and is due back in court on June 18.

Nicholas Holas | Chicago Police

Between tears and prayers at the funeral, which opened with the song “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri, attendees laughed while sharing stories of Lyons-Upshaw’s affinity for fashion, makeup and shopping.

“Today, we’re going to cry, we’re going to be sad today,” said Teaira Bradford, 32, one of Lyons-Upshaw’s two older siblings. “But tomorrow, when you wake up, I just want you to remember China’s smile. She wouldn’t want us to sit around and be sad and crying.”

The teenager was gunned down a week from prom — which she planned on attending with friends, and without a date — and two weeks from graduation from the Woodlawn campus of University of Chicago Charter Schools, where she got good grades, according to family members. She had plans to go to school for cosmetology after high school.

“For everybody, no matter what, you never know the last time you’ll see a person, so whenever you beef with anybody, no matter who you’ve got a problem with, whether it’s family or friends, always solve it by the end of the day,” said one of her classmates since 6th grade, Keshawn Amy, who said she was “a little mad” at him on the day she died. “I never thought that would be my last time seeing her.”

More than a dozen people spoke during the funeral services for Lyons-Upshaw, who was cremated. The turnout serves as a testament to the girl’s fun and loving nature, family members said. Her obituary refers to her as “an awesome person with a great personality.”

Lyons-Upshaw was one of eight people shot to death over the holiday weekend, in a string of gun violence that also left 30 people wounded. More than a dozen people gathered early Sunday outside the apartment in which the teenager was killed, crying, wailing and collapsing from grief.

A memorial service for the girl was held Monday evening — Memorial Day — at the high school, featuring a candle-lighting and balloon release. Her friends also mentioned they are planning on giving Lyons-Upshaw a “proper sendoff” Saturday night for prom.

“She was a true diva, she loved life, she loved her friends and she loved her family,” said Hayes, who is the director of the nonprofit Life Choices We Make, which touts itself as a “youth advocate group” that helps young people make better choices.

“She brought so many people together… She was lovely,” he said. “She inspired me and so many other people.”

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