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Bill Kirby Jr.: The long goodbye

Friends and family will gather today for the funeral of Jason Walker, who was shot and killed Jan. 8 by an off-duty deputy

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Now comes the most difficult moment – the last in the days of a long goodbye. 

When a father and a mother say goodbye to a son. Siblings, a grandmother and Jason Walker’s young teenage son, too. 

A choir’s voices of praise await. A eulogy is in the offing and a pastor’s prayer at today’s 11 a.m. service for Walker just across the county line in Raeford.  

My prayer is that there will be peace,” Janice Walker was saying to those who gathered Jan. 13 at Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church. And with prominent civil rights lawyer Ben Crump by her side, she added, “and most of all justice.” 

Jason Walker, 37, died Jan. 8 along Bingham Drive across from his parents’ home, felled by an off-duty Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office deputy, who says he shot Walker after Walker jumped on his truck and damaged the windshield. The deputy’s wife and daughter were inside the vehicle.  

The deputy has not been charged. He has been placed on administrative leave. The case is with the State Bureau of Investigation at the request of Fayetteville Police Chief Gina Hawkins because a law enforcement officer is involved. Billy West, the district attorney for Cumberland County, says he and his office support the chief’s decision, deferring to the N.C. Attorney General’s Office and the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys to avoid any “appearance of a conflict of interest.” 

Community activists have taken to the city streets from Hay and Gillespie downtown to Skibo Road calling for justice. They’ve sent colorful balloons into the twilight sky in Walker’s memory. They’ve held their lighted candles at a vigil along Bingham Drive. 

“When I say Jason,” they chant, “you say Walker!” 

“When I say Jason,” they chant again and again and again, “you say Walker!” 

They are vocal and passionate in their pleas for justice.  

 “They are not alone” 

But this is a different day – a day for a sobering and solemn remembrance of one who, a brother says, liked gardening, landscaping, fishing, music and being there for friends in their times of need. And always there for that 14-year- old son who Jason Walker, most have told us, loved more than life itself.  

You never saw one,” brother Marlowe Walker has said, “without the other.” 

That is the gist of what we know about Jason Walker, because his brothers told us so, and how their hearts ache and how they will miss him. 

“First thing I want to do is let Jason Walker’s family know they are not alone,” Crump told the family at Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church. And later he would say, We will never get justice for Jason Walker, but we can get accountability.” 

That is for the investigative days ongoing and for the investigative days to come. 

 Epilogue 

 Some braved a rainy and dreary Thursday at Wiseman Mortuary along Cumberland Street downtown to offer their final farewells to Jason Walker, and all who have had Walker and his family on their minds. Today, others will be at the Cape Fear Conference “B” Headquarters Building, where the choir will rejoice in song and the Rev. Richard Hooker most likely will remind them of a life lived. 

There will be reminders of  Walker’s infectious smile in this same sanctuary, where on June 6, 2020, George Floyd was remembered. There will be reminders of better days left behind in the hallways of Seventy-First High School, where Walker was part of the class of 2003. Of long shifts, perhaps, at the Smithfield Foods plant in Tar Heel. There will be tears of sorrow among the smiles of yesterday’s now gone in this last day of a family’s and a community’s long goodbye.  

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961. 

Column, Jason Walker, funeral, deputy shooting, Ben Crump

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