The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Wednesday, February 25, 2004  

Faheem Thomas-Childs Laid to Rest

Yesterday morning I trekked to North Philadelphia to attend the public viewing of Faheem Thomas-Childs, the 10-year-old boy recently killed in the cross fire of an apparent drug-dealers’ turf war.

I didn’t go with the intention of writing about it. Rather, and for reasons unclear, Faheem’s story hit me hard, gripping me from the first I heard of it, and readers will remember that I posted several items about the shooting and his death. Like many others at Deliverance Evangelistic Church yesterday, I suppose I was looking for some closure, much as I despise that word.

The experience was far more emotional than I expected. I hadn’t given much thought to whether the casket would be open or closed; kind of silly since the term “viewing” at the very least implies one will be seeing something. Perhaps because Faheem was reported to have been shot in the face, I was thinking this would not be the case.

Until yesterday I had never before in my life seen a dead child. It is truly a shocking sight, horrific even. Although Faheem was not short, his little body didn’t take up even half the casket. Should you ever find yourself heading into a similar situation, I strongly advise that you not go alone.

I’m not sure why, but I noticed Faheem’s feet and shoes immediately. Maybe it was because one approached the casket from that side. Or maybe, I thought later, it’s because I can’t recall ever having seen the feet of the deceased. Are they normally covered?

I admit it: I cried, a lot. I cried there, on the way home, and now and then for the rest of the day. My head was spinning. By evening, I was worn out, and eventually I had a long, hard sleep.

When I arrived home, having no one here to talk with and my usual phone contacts not answering, I did what I suppose most writers would do: I sat down and starting writing. What emerged was an impressionistic essay incorporating the indelible images of the morning, a mix of subtle and obvious allusions, symbols, and connections quite different from my usual style.

The essay appears on the op-ed page of today’s Philadelphia Daily News as “A Day of Death, With Little Blue Sneakers & Unexplained Seagulls.”

Reading the coverage and looking at the photos in this morning’s papers brought back all of the same emotions. (See “Community Says Goodbye to Faheem,” by Dan Geringer, Philadelphia Daily News, and “2,500 Mourn Boy Killed Outside N. Phila. School,” by Vernon Clark and Dwayne Campbell, Philadelphia Inquirer.)

Geringer’s article is outstanding. A few excerpts:

Faheem lay in his pearl gray casket, wearing sneakers, blue jeans, a skull cap, and a shirt covered with colorful images of his brothers and sisters.

The photograph of Faheem’s sweet, soulful face that has become ingrained on the city’s collective consciousness since the shooting lay next to him, and was reproduced on the “Home Going Service” programs and on “Rest in Peace Faheem” shirts worn by many of the 150 attending family members, especially the children.

The photo, taken from the waist up, makes Faheem look bigger than he really was. In his casket, he looked so thin, so vulnerable and so very, very young that, despite the peaceful organ music and the choir’s comforting hymns, the unspeakable horror of the wanton killing hit people hard.

Grown men and macho male teenagers walked away from the casket weeping openly, making no attempt to hide their tears. Children still young enough to believe in Santa Claus sobbed inconsolably as their parents hugged them but allowed them full expression of their grief. […]

Faheem’s third grade teacher, Robert Cunningham, said, “His angelic face told so much about the goodness and virtue within him. . . . If ever there was an innocent bystander, he was the most innocent of bystanders.”

I arrived early and left early, so I was pleased to read reports estimating the number of mourners at more than 2,500. Acel Moore, a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist, today noted the diversity of those in attendance. My impression differed, most likely because I was there with people from the neighborhood, while others, including numerous public officials, came later in the morning. (See: “Honoring a Child Tall Among His Peers.”)

Finally, I learned from today’s Inquirer that Faheem was called “Poppy” by his family. Poppy. That’s what we called my maternal grandfather, Martin, whose name is my middle name. Maybe in some unknown, mysterious way, that was the connection I felt but wasn’t able to see.

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