Community honors slain athlete

A football, signed by the Hylton High School teammates of James “Bear” Parker, sat on a table in the sanctuary of Dale City Christian Church on Wednesday evening. Near it sat a plaque and trophy, both of which belonged to Parker, who was accidentally shot to death while sitting in the passenger seat of a friend’s car on Friday night.

Though his football photos graced T-shirts, a photo montage and the cover of Wednesday’s prayer service program, any doubt about whether Parker’s influence extended beyond the field were erased during the 90-minute memorial.

“Bear doesn’t need testimony,” said LaShon Harris as she prepared to introduce three of Parker’s peers, each of whom spoke during the ceremony. “This is a testimony right here.”

Indeed, the sanctuary overflowed with children, teenagers and older folks, men and women, and blacks, whites, Hispanics and Asians. The posted occupancy limit of the room is 394 people, but ushers brought in extra chairs, and others sat on the floor in front of pews to be there as their fallen friend was remembered.

“When I go, I pray I have a following like this,” Harris said.

“It’s amazing how someone’s life can touch so many,” remarked the Rev. Patrick Thomas, the church’s senior pastor.

The service, said Thomas, was mainly for young people to be able to process their grief. It’s OK to cry, and to talk about what happened, he told the room, filled mostly with students from Hylton, but also with those from Gar-Field, Potomac and elsewhere, plus members of the church, community and Parker’s family.

“You don’t have to go through it alone,” he told them. “Life is about coming together.”

Sean Harris, who called Parker a close friend, spoke to the crowd.

“If you all want to see him again,” he said, “you have to get your lives right [because] Bear is in heaven.”

Thomas echoed the message. He asked everyone present to take a good look at improving their own lives, not because they should feel guilty about the past, but to consider how they could best honor Bear in the future.

Parker’s friends honored him in different ways. Many wore unique T-shirts, emblazoned with messages like “you will live on in the hearts of everyone who knew and loved you,” “Rest in peace, ’til we meet again at the crossroads,” and simply “James ‘Bear’ Parker #20, still can’t be stopped.” One former football rival showed off a tattoo dedicated to Parker’s memory. A family friend, whose son plays for Woodbridge, used a video camera to tape messages from Parker’s friends and acquaintances. He planned to deliver the tape to Parker’s mother Marie.

The church took an offering, which totalled $1,380, that they gave directly to the family.

Nearly an hour after the service ended, there was still a large crowd around Marie and the rest of Parker’s family, offering hugs and words of encouragement. Some wandered over to the montage of photos, showing Parker with his mother after a Hylton football game, getting ready for a dance and walking on the beach.

As Rev. Thomas talked to a young friend of Parker’s headed out the door, the friend could be heard saying how much he missed Parker.

“It was his personality that got me,” the friend said.

Parker clearly had an effect on people throughout the Dale City community.

“I look at the fruit of his life,” Thomas said. “He made a difference. His life wasn’t in vain.”

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