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Bobby McKeithen, Fatally Shot At Butler High, Remembered At Funeral Service

Nick de la Canal

A funeral service was held Saturday for Bobby McKeithen, 16, who was fatally shot at Butler High School on Monday. Another 16-year-old, Jatwan Cuffie, has been charged with first degree murder after police say he fired on McKeithen during a fight in a school hallway before the start of class.

The mourners at Progressive Baptist Church on Saturday spilled out of the sanctuary and into an overflow room with video and speakers as the service got underway. Pastor Terrence Grooms presided over the service, which featured readings of Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 and 1 Corinthians 15:12-22.

Those who spoke included Anna O'Connell, who dated Bobby. She remembered him as a bright-eyed, confident young man with a compelling smile, and who cared for her deeply.

"Without you, Bobby, I would never have known the true definition of strength and confidence and, most of all, positivity," she said, "Because you were the one who knew those things like the back of your hand."

The principal of Butler High School, John Legrand, also addressed the gathering, saying he and the entire school were heartbroken by the death.

"Above all, we're going to miss Bobby. We're going to miss his infectious personality, his love for life, that beatiful smile he brought to school with him each day. We're going to miss that," he said.

Many in the crowd wore t-shirts, hoodies, and pins printed with Bobby's picture.  Among them, Bobby's mother, Ashley Mewborn, who sat in the front row clutching one of her youngest children and comforting family members around her.

Bobby's death was both tragic and rare for Charlotte. It's believed to be the first time a student has been shot and killed on a CMS campus, and the death has sent shockwaves through the school system and the state.

Last week, CMS Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said he was revisiting the idea of installing metal detectors at CMS schools, and even as Saturday's service was taking place, dozens of people were marching in uptown calling for an end to gun violence.

Inside the sanctuary, speakers said the best solution likely lies with students themselves. Mecklenburg County Sheriff-Elect Gary McFadden urged young adults in attendance to resist stirring up turmoil.

"Do not be the messenger of drama," he said, "If you continue to be the messenger of drama, we will continue to have these services."

Mario Black with the Million Youth March of Charlotte and Salisbury echoed that sentiment.

"Place yourself around positive peers that you know in your heart are going somewhere in life. Focus on your education and not all of this beefing in the streets and the classroom. Life is too short," he said.

Black also denounced news reports that implied McKeithen was a bully. Initially, Superintendent Wilcox had said the incident stemmed from a case of bullying that escalated.

Black said those words were painful to the family, and ran contrary to how Bobby was viewed by administrators and his peers.

"Bobby ... was not a bully," Black said, "nor was his character."

The investigation into what led to the shooting in still ongoing. The suspected shooter, Jatwan Cuffie, told police he feared McKeithen or another student might fight him at school that day. Cuffie said he had previously fought with other teenagers in a parking lot over the weekend.

At the service, Butler Principal John Legrand said he hoped McKeithen would be rememberd for the joy he brought other students at the school.

"His legacy at Butler will be one of positivity. His legacy at Butler will be one of love. That's what he deserves, and that's what I'm going to see through, and see that that happens."

Correction: The funeral for Bobby McKeithen was held at Progressive Baptist Church, not Providence Baptist Church.

Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal