Family, friends gather for boy's wake

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Date: 2008-08-01

BY WILLIAM LEE staff writer

Tammy Bryant would've preferred a more joyous reason for a family reunion. In recent years, she and the older siblings of Kevin Johnson had begun to reconnect with one another after years of being splintered in the foster care system. They had also reconnected with their biological parents. But Thursday night, the family came together at the wake for Kevin, the 12-year-old Crete boy whose July 20 death, apparently the result of child abuse, has become a highly publicized case. No one has been charged yet in his death.

The boy's family, friends and former teachers gathered at Leak and Sons Funeral Chapel, 18400 Pulaski Road, Country Club Hills, to pay their respects. Amid their sorrow, there also was anger at how he apparently died. "I've got mixed emotions," Bryant, 33, of Chicago, said of the family gathering for such a sorrowful time. "I'm not happy about the situation that's going on; I'm still upset about it."

The same day that a Will County judge denied visitation for the foster parents who cared for Kevin and eight other children, family and friends struggled to make sense of his death. "We should come together for a special occasion like a family reunion or a wedding, not for a funeral," Bryant said. Inside the Ellis Memorial Chapel, Kevin, in a white coffin covered with a colorful flower arrangement, was dressed in a cream-and-gold suit.

Some of the more distraught mourners were teachers and other staff from Crete-Monee School District 201U, where Kevin attended Balmoral Elementary School. "He had the longest eyelashes, the biggest smile, he was the sweetest little boy," speech pathologist Julie Beckwith said. "He liked everybody, everybody liked him. He just had an innocence about him," district employee Pam Webb said.

Kevin's biological parents attended the wake, but Barbara and Fred D. Johnson II, who had custody of the boy before his death, did not attend. "They better not show their faces here," Bryant said. William Lee can be reached at wlee@southtownstar.com or (708) 633-6747.

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