After Botham Jean’s shooting death, his Dallas church intent on seeking justice
DALLAS — The preacher stood wearily on stage, wiping tears…
DALLAS — Tears flowed Saturday at the Dallas West Church of Christ as hundreds came together for a prayer vigil in memory of Botham Shem Jean, the 26-year-old church member shot to death by an off-duty, uniformed police officer.
As the Dallas resident’s killing refocused national attention on police-involved shootings, the victim’s family and fellow Christians asked God to bring peace — and justice.
The nearly two-hour vigil ended with Allison Jean, Botham Jean’s mother, saying her son “did everything with a passion,” including serving the Lord.
“I can never give up because I know that Botham is singing with the angels, and I want to be in that choir. I want to see my son. I want to look upon his face,” said Allison Jean, who lives on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, where the victim grew up before leaving at age 19 to attend Harding University in Searcy, Ark.
When Botham Jean was born in 1991, his mother said, “God gave me an angel.”
Allison Jean was visiting New York City when she learned of her son’s death. According to authorities, a Dallas Police Department officer — identified late Saturday as four-year veteran Amber Guyger — entered Botham Jean’s apartment about 10 p.m. Thursday, mistaking his home for her own. Details on exactly what happened remain under investigation by the Texas Rangers and the Dallas County district attorney’s office.
On Friday, Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall told reporters that police would seek a manslaughter charge against the officer. But as of late Saturday, no formal charge had been filed, and no arrest warrant had been issued.
Flanked by area ministers and church leaders at a news conference after the prayer vigil, Lee Merritt, an attorney retained by Botham Jean’s family, criticized the delay in taking the officer into custody. Merritt questioned whether Guyger was receiving preferential treatment.
“This family is frustrated. This family is upset,” Merritt said, standing beside Allison Jean as they faced a half-dozen television cameras at the back of the church auditorium.
Sara Mokuria, co-founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality in Dallas, joined Merritt in addressing the news media. She called for the “swift and immediate arrest of the officer,” along with full transparency on the shooting and the investigation.
“We know there have been calls for peace, but peace does not come without justice,” Mokuria said. “This is an unacceptable way for Dallas to represent itself to the world.”
Despite the officer and the victim living in the same building, the attorney said he had no indication they knew each other.
While much of the national conversation focuses on race — Botham Jean was black, while Guyger is white — his mother said her son “never saw color. He never saw race. He wanted all of us to unite, to be together.”
At the Dallas West Church of Christ, the congregation knew Botham Jean as “brother Bo.”
Botham Jean served as a regular song leader and taught a Wednesday night class for young adults, minister and elder Sammie Berry said. But the young man didn’t think that was enough.
“He would always say to me, ‘Brother Berry, I want to do more,’” Berry recalled.
After such a tragic loss, elder Emery Tease said, the church wanted to “figure out something we could do or say.”
Organizing a prayer vigil seemed like a simple thing to do.
“I believe in prayer and think God can heal,” Tease said in welcoming the crowd, which included a sizable contingent of Harding alumni as well as many of Botham Jean’s colleagues from PricewaterhouseCoopers, where the 2016 accounting graduate worked.
“I’m at a loss for words,” the elder added. “I hope we can come together in love. … Love is the answer. That would immediately stop all the violence, stop all the persecution.”
Among those who offered prayers was Todd Gentry, college minister for the College Church of Christ in Searcy, where Botham Jean served as a ministry intern while at Harding.
Todd and Debbie Gentry drove to Dallas on Friday and picked up Botham Jean’s mother at the airport. They had served as Botham Jean’s “Arkansas parents” during his time at Harding. They took several mission groups, which Botham Jean helped organize, to work in St. Lucia.
“Would you wrap your arms around us?” Todd Gentry begged God as he choked back tears. “Would you provide peace and healing?”
Jon W. Morrison, minister for the Cedar Crest Church of Christ in Dallas, said, “When we do not have answers, we have prayer.”
Morrison prayed that God would use Botham Jean’s death “to bring us together and not to divide us.”
“We also pray not just for solace, but we pray for justice,” the minister added.
Along with prayers and tributes, the vigil featured boisterous congregational singing of hymns including “Just a Little Talk with Jesus,” “When We All Get to Heaven” and — at the request of Allison Jean — “O I Want to See Him.”
Kerry Ray worked with Botham Jean at PricewaterhouseCooper.
“This world has lost a light in the dark,” Ray said of his colleague’s death.
“This world has lost a light in the dark.”
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