MANATEE — The casket was about to be closed, but Jasmine Thompson’s family members were not ready to say goodbye.
The women gasped for air in between sobs, trembling as they comforted each other in the front of the sanctuary at Happy Gospel Church, 1915 53rd Ave. E.
“It’s alright. It’s alright. She’s in heaven,” said the Rev. Clyde Thompson, Jasmine’s grandfather, who also officiated the service. “It’s alright. It’s good to cry. You need to cry. Go ahead and cry. There’s nothing wrong with crying.”
Family members were clad in light colors in honor of Jasmine, a vivacious 17-year-old who was dressed in light blue with a sparkling tiara adorning her head.
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But there came the time to sit down, for services to begin, and eyes looked their last at the girl in the white casket as the lid was closed and locked by Bradenton Funeral Home staff members.
And the services began, concluding a most difficult week for the family.
“That was the hardest thing I think I’ve ever done. That was my grandbaby there. Grandfathers should not have to bury their granddaughters. Granddaughters should bury their grandfathers,” Thompson said, looking out at his family and over the crowd of a packed church with chairs overflowing into the hall.
Jasmine, a Bayshore High cheerleader, was killed Sept. 4 when 18-year-old Daniel Williams allegedly opened fire on a vehicle just outside Southeast High School along 37th Avenue East about 30 to 45 minutes after a football game. Jasmine and her friends were picking up a Southeast High cheerleader.
Jenerra Finklea, an English teacher and cheerleading coach at Bayshore High School, knew Jasmine for three years.
“I know Jaz was Ms. Raechelle’s baby, but she was my baby too,” she said, searching for words.
Whenever Jasmine had a problem, she always asked for a pass to Ms. Finklea’s classroom. Her problems were worked out with the help of her coach and mentor.
On the night of the shooting, Finklea wanted that same scenario to unfold again.
“If I could just get to Jaz, she would be alright. ... You think there’s something you can do, but there was nothing any of us could do,” she said.
Finklea remembers telling Jasmine goodbye after the Bayshore High and Manatee High football season opener.
“‘Jaz, you’re not going to cry on me, are you?’” she told Jasmine. “Little did I know I would be the one crying in a few hours.”
Friends, family members and pastors spoke about lessons that should be learned from the senseless death.
ESPN sports broadcaster Dick Vitale was asked by several people on the spur of the moment to speak at the funeral.
Vitale is starting a memorial scholarship in honor of Jasmine and recent Bayshore High graduate DeJuan Williams, who recently died in a shooting.
“The love I feel in this room is so special,” Vitale said. “That young lady is a winner in the game of life. That lady will affect generation after generation because of the life she lived.”
Vitale and others spoke of the need to get guns out of the hands of teens.
“There’s no place in society to carry a gun. That’s a coward’s way of life,” Vitale said.“If you are a man and want to show toughness, put a football helmet on.”
Rev. Thompson said the tragedy that struck his family sadly is nothing new.
He believes God has a plan, but also said there are too many guns falling into the wrong hands.
“If you see something, you need to report it to someone,” he said.
The Rev. James Roberts of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Bradenton told parents, “If you do choose to carry a gun, make sure it’s secure and know where it is. ... Young boys today don’t back down from anything.”
Jasmine unknowingly imparted her last words to the crowd through her last writing assignment.
Finklea, who described Jasmine as having a “childlike innocence,” read from the assignment.
“Not every battle you are in is made to be won, but it can make you stronger,” she read.
“Jasmine won her war,” Finklea said. “As the sky clears, the sun sets and the stars fill the sky, look up. The stars in the sky — they are little holes in heaven. And Jasmine is smiling down on us, letting us know she’s alright.”