They came by the hundreds to say their goodbyes. Dawnn Jaffier had taught them to dance, to listen, to give their time and their hearts to their community. On Saturday morning, family and friends gathered at Jubilee Christian Church in Mattapan to mourn Jaffier’s sudden, violent end last weekend.
“I honestly wouldn’t be who I was today if it wasn’t for Dawnn,” said 19-year-old Christina Cudgoe, who traveled from Connecticut to attend the funeral.
Jaffier had known her since she was a baby, Cudgoe said, and she looked up to Jaffier like a big sister. When Cudgoe struggled, Jaffier was the person she turned to. “She was a great person. She taught me so much.”
Jaffier was shot in the head at 8:17 a.m. on Aug. 23 as she crossed Charlotte Street at Blue Hill Avenue on her way to the city’s annual J’ouvert celebration, an early-morning party held before the Caribbean Carnival parade.
Eighteen-year-old Keith Williams faces murder and gun charges in connection with her death. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Aug. 25 in Dorchester Municipal Court and is being held without bail. Officials have said that Jaffier was the unintended victim of a possible gang-related shooting.
“You look around you, you see how many people she touched,” said Jaffier’s uncle, Rudy Miller, after the service, gesturing behind him to the crowd coming out of the church. “Her passing brought everyone together. So there’s some positive that came out of this. It brought the whole family together. It brought the whole city together.”
Mourners spoke of Jaffier’s devotion to the children she mentored at the West End House Boys and Girls Club in Allston and Hennigan Elementary School in Jamaica Plain, where she was known affectionately as “Coach Dawnn.”
“She inspires anyone that comes into contact with her,” said Jasmine Clark, 21. “I feel like I have a duty to live on her legacy and continue the work she was doing.”
Media were not allowed inside the church, but mourners said the service celebrated Jaffier’s life and included speeches by her family, friends, and Police Commissioner William Evans. The city’s top law enforcement officials attended. Afterward, Superintendent in Chief William Gross called for the citizens of Boston to regard Jaffier’s death as a catalyst for change, to reach out to struggling young people, so that her death would not be in vain.
“Dawnn Jaffier, her legacy, what she did for the community, how she represented her family, how she represented Boston, will never go away,” said Gross. “It’s kind of ironic, all the work she did for the kids, for the young ones, that a young one that made a poor decision cost her her life. But through that irony, we’re going to carry on. I’m telling you right now, everyone, their common goal is to make sure her good works carry on.”
Gross estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 people came to pay their respects to Jaffier and her family, attending either the wake or the funeral. Many wore orange, Jaffier’s favorite color.
Jaffier’s cousin, Monique Nolberto, 18, left the service early, overcome by grief as she listened to one of Jaffier’s close friends describe how she was supposed to be with Jaffier on the morning she was shot, but overslept.
“I just couldn’t be in there anymore,” said Nolberto. “It was the stories being told and the songs being sung.”
Nolberto’s boyfriend, Terence Anderson, 20, said that though he had never met Jaffier, he felt as though he knew her as he listened to her loved ones talk about her.
“There’s a lot of love in there,” he said. “There’s not a lot of good people like that.”
Anderson said mourners were wrestling with the question of how to make sense of Jaffier’s death.
“I don’t think anybody deserves to die that way. Especially when you’ve given back to the community every single day, and you’re living your life for the community,” he said. “It makes me feel like I can’t walk the streets safely anymore.”
Gross said the investigation into Jaffier’s death is still active and officials are looking for witnesses to come forward.
“If anybody was involved, we’re going to bring them to justice,” said Gross.
Jaffier’s immediate family left the funeral without speaking to the media.
Miller said the family is working with law-enforcement officials to plan a scholarship in Jaffier’s honor. A fund-raiser is being planned for Oct. 11, he said.