ST. LOUIS – Eleven days after being gunned down near an alley, David Davis didn't get a traditional funeral procession of family and friends. After bullets began flying outside the mortuary during his service, killing two men and critically injuring another, the 27-year-old father of three went to his grave with just the undertakers and the police who escorted his hearse present.
Police were still trying on Wednesday to unravel what led gunfire to erupt the previous day outside the Reliable Funeral home, where investigators say a dispute among mourners spilled outside and culminated in the crackle of gunfire.
That anyone felt the need or desire to bring guns to a funeral service was particularly upsetting for activist pastor B.T. Rice, who has tried for years to stem gun violence in St. Louis — particularly in poorer, largely black neighborhoods, including the one where Reliable does business.
"Just to think you can't go to a funeral and show your respect for the dead without worrying about that," Rice lamented. "Just to think you can't go to a funeral any more, and feel like you got to stay closed up in your own cocoon just to stay safe.
"That ought to be a place where a truce could be called."
Police initially had suggested that the gunfire was gang-related, connected to the unsolved Nov. 19 killing of Davis, who investigators say was shot in the head and torso. He died at the scene.
The staccato of Tuesday's gunfire caused chaos inside the chapel, investigators said, where people dropped for cover as bullets pelted windows, walls and gutters. The funeral home's 82-year-old owner dove underneath his desk, and some mourners scrambled out of the service, tending to the wounded on the driveway where blood later had to be hosed off.
Police identified the dead on Wednesday as 31-year-olds Jason Finney and Trevlan Glass, noting in a statement that it was unclear whether they should be considered victims or possible gunmen. The same was true for a 35-year-old man police said was hospitalized in critical condition with multiple gunshot wounds.
Investigators still were on the hunt for a fourth man — it's unclear whether he was a victim or one of the gunmen — who witnesses say was wounded in the leg, managed to limp away and still had not surfaced at a hospital for treatment.
The shooting was reminiscent of one in St. Louis in December 2007, when two gunmen fired at a crowd outside another local funeral home during services for a murder victim. A 30-year-old mourner died five days after being shot in the neck shoulder and groin, and a second victim survived two gunshot wounds to a foot.
And it left Rice, an often outspoken and very public pastor, numb and fumbling for words.
"It really is disturbing. That thing just bothered me so bad I barely slept much," said Rice, the New Horizon Christian Church pastor who has been active in police affairs while serving as a vice president of St. Louis County's NAACP branch. "I'm just tired of eulogizing young African-American kids (killed by violence). You see life just wasting away. As a minister in the African-American community, I dread to know some pastor will have to say some last words for someone senselessly taken out and destroyed."
St. Louis Police Chief Dan Isom, who called the violence outside Reliable "completely outrageous and unacceptable," has responded, saying he would deploy the force's mobile reserve unit to heighten police visibility in the city's crime-plagued areas — at least until a long-term plan is crafted.
Fueling Rice's worries about the prevalence of handguns was that the gunfight at Reliable happened on a particularly deadly day in the St. Louis region.
Just hours earlier, in eastern Missouri's Bonne Terre community about 60 miles south of St. Louis, police say 25-year-old Nathan Fortner opened fire at a duplex, killing his former girlfriend, her mother and that woman's boyfriend before turning the gun on himself as police closed in. Investigators there on Wednesday were trying to determine whether a fifth body may be linked to Fortner's killing spree.