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Pastors Call For Change As Hundreds Mourn Atatiana Jefferson At Dallas Funeral

Atatiana Jefferson's funeral
Christopher Connelly
Mourners from across the country attended Atatiana Jefferson's funeral at Concord Church in Dallas.

A few hundred mourners gathered at Concord Church in Dallas Thursday to mark the life and death of Atatiana Jefferson. It was a funeral focused on the life that she lived, and a call to action for systemic change.

A large picture of Jefferson stood next to her open casket. As mourners filed by and then the casket was closed, sobs and wails from her family could be heard across the cavernous sanctuary.

“We are here because an amazing lady lived, and impacted so many,” said Concord Church senior pastor Bryan Carter.

Jefferson was a 28-year-old graduate of Xavier University. She worked selling pharmaceutical equipment, and was studying for the medical school entrance exam.

Carter said the family wanted the funeral to be a celebration of Jefferson’s life, after so much focus on her death. 

Jefferson was killed by Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean, who was responding to a concerned neighbor’s call to make a welfare check at Jefferson's mother's home on Oct. 12.

At the funeral, a letter from Yolanda Carr, Jefferson’s mother, praised her daughter’s “humble boldness,” her drive to succeed and her loving nature. Carr did not attend the funeral. She’s had recent health issues and had been hospitalized recently.

“You said you were going to change the world,” Carr wrote in her letter. “I believe you still will.”

Atatiana Jefferson's father, Marquis Jefferson was among the mourners. His wife read a letter to the congregation where he remembered his daughter as loving and kind, and remarked on her “shining smile,” and “quiet and strong focus.”

Jefferson said he was setting up a foundation in his daughter’s name to help aspiring black doctors, work on homelessness and support math education.

A letter from Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters was also read to the family during the service. Waters said she was moved to reach out to them because of the "outrageous injustice" of Atatiana's death. 

Losing a daughter so young and unexpectedly is “like going through an earthquake,” Pastor Bryan Carter told the family, “your world has been shaken.”

“It’s not just shaken this family, but shaken the entire community,” he said.

The way Jefferson was killed, in her mother's home, in front of her 8-year-old nephew has shaken people well beyond her family.

Police officers were dispatched to the house where Jefferson was living around 2:30 a.m. after a neighbor noticed the lights on and a door open, then called a non-emergency police number, hoping for a welfare check. Police video shows then-officer Aaron Dean and his partner searching the perimeter of the house, checking in windows and entering the backyard. According to a police affidavit, that’s when Jefferson grabbed her gun from her purse and went to a back window, having heard sounds in the back of the house. When Dean saw her, he shouted for her to raise her hands, and fired his gun. He never identified himself as a police officer.

Police officials in Fort Worth have condemned the shooting, and the interim chief said Dean violated the department’s use of force, de-escalation and professional conduct policies during the shooting. The Tarrant County District Attorney, Sharen Wilson, announced plans Friday to pursue an indictment for murder.

At the funeral, Carter said this killing resembled too many killings of black people by police officers.

“Many of us are tired. Tired of talking to our kids about the police, tired of seeing mothers grieving on TV, tired of having to say that black lives matter, that body camera evidence is clear and conclusive, of going to funerals and protests, of dealing with racial profiling and incarceration," Carter said.

“Why are we asking people to protect our people, when they are afraid of our people?” asked Pastor Carlos Ming who also spoke at the funeral. Talking about police officers, Ming said many of those sworn to protect and serve "become afraid when they see the color of our skin.”

Jamie Kowlessar, senior pastor for City Temple Seventh Day Adventist Church, called for justice, mercy and unity. He told the mourners to put aside differences to honor Atatiana Jefferson.

“Our hearts are heavy because we are here again singing the same dirge,” Kowlessar said, because the community is burying another daughter too soon.

The funeral was attended by Fort Worth’s interim chief of police, Ed Kraus, and more than a dozen other members of the Fort Worth Police Department in dress uniform. They wore light teal ribbons on their uniforms, a tribute to Jefferson.

The city’s mayor, city councilmembers, and other city officials were also in attendance.

Jefferson's funeral was originally scheduled for Saturday, but was rescheduled after a family disagreement over the arrangements.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.