As hundreds of mourners stepped into the sanctuary at North Central University in Minneapolis, they were met with cardboard cutouts of Deshaun Hill Jr. holding a basketball and wearing a football uniform — signifying sports he had loved since the age of 5.
Hill, the 15-year-old North Community High School sophomore who died a day after he was shot Feb. 9 near a bus stop at Penn Avenue and Golden Valley Road, was considered a star athlete of the North Side. He had impressed coaches as the starting quarterback on North's varsity football team and had played youth football for Creekview Recreation Center.
But Hill wasn't only an impressive athlete, family and friends said at the funeral Tuesday. His influence had transcended the field.
"I called him my good guy," Hill's uncle Anton Walker said. "So he was more than just a football player and all that stuff to me. He was like a son to me. … He was a star in our family, too. He's a star in our hearts."
Hill's former coach Chris Johnson emphasized the sentiment.
"He was a real-life star," Johnson said. "He was beyond a leader. He was just inspirational. That's what a young man should be."
On multiple occasions, the mourners applauded and stood to celebrate Hill's life. Though there was a sense of pride in the sanctuary speckled with North Community High School students and alumni clad in navy sweatshirts, some wearing the No. 9 from Hill's football jersey, the message from the pulpit was clear: It was gun violence that took Hill's life and his dreams.
"Lord, we come to you today in this room with heavy hearts and heads bowed with questions, Lord, that we believe by faith that we can ask you honestly today," the Rev. Edrin Williams of Sanctuary Covenant Church led in prayer.
"How long? How long, Lord, will good have to contend with evil? How long, Lord, will the lives of people who look like me be devalued by others and often by people who look like me? How long, Lord, must we prove our worth? How long, Lord, until our children get to rest in their beds at night without playing 'gunshot or fireworks'? How long, Lord? How long, Lord, before we get to enjoy the good life, have hope and peace and joy and love? How long, Lord, must we wait?"
Hill's death was the ninth homicide this year in Minneapolis. Cody L. Fohrenkam, 29, was charged in Hennepin County District Court on Tuesday with second-degree intentional murder in Hill's killing, in what appeared to be a random encounter after the two appeared to brush shoulders while passing each other, according to a criminal complaint.
Hill's former teachers from Lucy Laney Community School told attendees that even at a young age, they knew Hill would be special. He went on to attend the Blake Academy Alumni Learning Works Program and earned a full scholarship to Hope Academy. Instead, he chose North Community High School, where he was an honor roll student.
He told his mother, Tuesday Sheppard, that if a professional sports career did not work out for him, he'd pursue engineering.
On Tuesday, the sanctuary erupted in laughter when Kahlil Brown shared how Hill's persistence led to the two becoming best friends. One day, the boys took out the trash at the same time, and Hill said they should hang out since they were both students at Lucy Laney. Brown thought it was just a random invite and that they'd never get together.
But, soon enough, Hill was knocking on the door, "'Kahlil here?'" Brown recalled Hill saying.
Brown's mother, Heather Brooks, thanked the Hill family for setting her son on a better path.
"If it wasn't for you, we wouldn't be here, he wouldn't be playing sports, and he wouldn't have A's and B's."
Hill is survived by his mother, his father, Deshaun Hill Sr., and his sisters Talina, Tadaya and Tashaunti Hill.