Halfway through the funeral inside a packed Mount Hermon Baptist Church in Avondale on Friday, the Rev. Tony Ricard ordered the students of St. Augustine High School to their feet.
Dozens of African-American teens clad in pressed white school shirts stood up and raised their right fists.
“We know that for young men, it ain’t easy to say goodbye to a friend,” said Ricard, the campus minister at the all-boys, historically black school founded in 1951, after one false start at the school’s alma mater. Then the students began again, singing the anthem for their school and for their slain classmate, Jawara Givens.
“We will serve you with true devotion,” they sang, “and be loyal sons of yours forevermore.”
Givens, 18, was shot in the parking lot of a New Orleans East apartment complex on June 30 and died a day later. Both of the men accused of murdering him have been arrested, but speakers at his funeral said they could not begin to understand how they could have killed a rising senior with the promise of a bright future.
Friends and family remembered Givens as an avid fisherman and hunter. His father, Lenard Givens Sr., said he often took his son on those back-country outings. He tried to foster his academic potential by sending him to a series of private schools and finally St. Augustine.
Givens’ English teacher, Maniko Barthelemy, said he was a talented student who would email her to check up on her on sick days. He dreamed of going to law school and setting up his own firm, according to an obituary.
But Givens also had a mischievous side, Barthelemy remembered. He often slipped into the classroom just as the bell was ringing.
“Miss B., don’t close the door on me,” she quoted him as saying, to laughter from the church. “I’m not late. You see me; you hear me.”
Barthelemy said no one at Givens’ funeral thought they would lose him to violence.
Inside the printed funeral program, his mother, Blondy Moore, closed his obituary with a plaintive note.
“The obituary is short because his life was cut short,” she wrote. “He had so much potential.”
Lenard Givens’ voice cracked as he remembered his son’s final night. As he lay in bed in his Gretna house recuperating from neck surgery the night of June 29, he said, his son offered him dinner.
“The night he was murdered, he brought me a plate of food,” Givens recalled. “He said, ‘Daddy, I want you to eat this.’ ”
Givens said he wasn’t hungry, but his son insisted. “That was his character,” he said. The elder Givens took the plate.
Jawara Givens then left to go to his girlfriend’s residence in the Hidden Lake Apartment Complex in New Orleans East, his father said, to pick up some clothes.
Givens said he believes his son was killed as a result of a dispute with Trever Mitchell, 22, and Donovan Williams, 25, involving his son’s girlfriend. Both of the accused killers were related to the girl, he said.
“The victim wasn’t involved in anything, no kind of wrongdoing,” Sgt. Nicholas Gernon, the commander of the New Orleans Police Department’s Homicide Section, said after Givens’ death. “Unfortunately, there was some kind of ongoing dispute between him and the shooters, and they decided to take it out on him.”
About 1:30 a.m. June 30, according to an arrest warrant, Givens saw his attackers in the Hidden Lake parking lot in the 6800 block of Lake Kenilworth Drive near his SUV and told someone on his cellphone that the two men were armed with a long gun.
An unnamed witness told police that the witness saw Mitchell and Williams seated in a vehicle close to Givens’ 2005 Nissan Pathfinder. The witness tried to intervene in the boiling dispute, but Williams responded angrily , according to the warrant. Williams then rolled up his vehicle’s window, and the witness walked away.
Moments later, gunshots ripped through the air, striking Givens multiple times as he sat in the driver’s seat. The witness returned to the parking lot to see Givens’ SUV coming to a stop against another vehicle as the two other men drove away.
Givens was taken to Interim LSU Hospital. After holding on for a day, he died July 1.
Lenard Givens said that while the two men accused of shooting his son remained free, he worried for the safety of Jawara’s twin brother Kwesi, who was born one minute sooner.
Mitchell turned himself in on July 2 and Williams the next day. Both were booked on a count of second-degree murder and remain in Orleans Parish Prison.
Even after the two men’s arrests, Lenard Givens said, he is not quite himself.
“I got times I get so shook up I can’t drive my pickup truck,” he said.
At Jawara Givens’ funeral Friday, Bishop Sean Elder tried to offer his family words of comfort.
“The devil will make you think nobody knows what you’re going through,” said Elder, standing at the pulpit over Givens’ casket. “God knows exactly what it means to have a son who was murdered.”