When Agabus Lartey heard that his daughter Kristen had been killed, gunned down while she sat in a car with friends, he said his heart felt like it might break into pieces. In the difficult days that followed, waves of grief brought him to his knees, where he prayed for comfort.
But while he recalled his daughter Saturday as a kind young woman who loved her family and brimmed with life, he told hundreds of funeral mourners that he feels no hatred for whoever killed her and urged the congregants not to hold malice in their hearts.
“It is still dawning on me that Kristen is gone,” he said at Jubilee Christian Church in Mattapan. “But the Bible tells us we should not, in no way, shape, or form, have the spirit of vengeance. Don’t waste your time or energy thinking evil about such people. They may escape the police, but they won’t escape a sovereign God.”
Lartey, senior pastor of Family Life Fellowship church in Hyde Park, said he missed his daughter deeply, but knew she was in a better place.
“The conditions of life cannot eclipse the goodness of God!” he preached, as the crowd burst into applause and shouts of hallelujah. “My God is good!”
Kristen Lartey, a 22-year-old who had just graduated from college, and two other young women were killed Aug. 12 while sitting in a parked car on Harlem Street in Dorchester, a crime that has horrified the city and brought calls for action. No arrests have been made.
Clergy members and family pledged that Lartey’s death would be a galvanizing force that would help unify the city in common cause.
“I believe her death will not be in vain,” said Ronald Ricketts, also a pastor at Family Life Fellowship, his voice rising with emotion. “We have to contend together against this evil. It’s a vicious fight.
To rising applause, Ricketts said, “We will not be the same anymore. Something powerful is going to result in this city.”
In a service filled with raw emotion and declarations of faith, friends and family remembered Lartey as a sparkling spirit who led a purposeful life centered on her family and her church.
“My cousin was a strong, vibrant, and knowledgable young woman,” said Kimberly Prescod, as the congregation in Jubilee Christian Church murmured in agreement. “She made our lives so much richer.”
While others “flowed downhill with their peers,” Lartey followed her own path, she said. She was fiercely independent, but loyal to those she loved.
An advertising major in school, she enjoyed coming up with jingles for products, sometimes turning a catchy phrase into a song in just minutes, Prescod said.
Another cousin, Ryan Brathwaite, described Lartey as a constant joy whose quick wit made her the “life of family dinners.”
“She was taken from us far too early,” he said. “She was a bright light in a world that seems to have lost its moral compass.”
Many of Lartey’s classmates from the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science in Roxbury and St. John’s University attended the service.
Stefano Riley, a high school friend, said Lartey had a special way about her, and lived a life that was “full of love and joy.” When he was looking for a movie to see or book to read, or for a laugh after a long day, he went to her.
“I came to think of her as a big sister,” he said. “When I needed a full belly laugh, Kristen would dole out the funnies.”
Clergy members said her death would have meaning and purpose, even if it was hard to see through the grief. And comfort would come, though it might be hard to imagine.
Margaret Gregory, a childhood friend, said many of her fondest times were spent with Lartey.
“Talking about her, it makes me smile,” she said.
Then Gregory began to sing. As her voice filled the church, people stood and clapped along.
“I won’t complain,” she sang. “Kristen I won’t complain. God’s been good to me.”
The other women killed were Genevieve Phillip and Sharrice Perkins. Like Lartey, they were 22. A funeral for Phillip will be held Tuesday.
The Rev. Jim Scott said that while it was natural to speak of Lartey’s death as a tragic loss, believers knew she was at peace.
“You can’t lose something if you know where it is,” he said. “Today she is standing in the presence of God, in a place where they don’t cry as we cry here, where they don’t mourn as we mourn here today.”
Karima Carty-Tonge, a childhood friend, recalled going out with Lartey this summer to celebrate her college graduation.
“We ate, we talked, we laughed, we reminisced,” she said.
Lartey “remembered everything,” she said, and loved talking about old times and the “crazy antics” of their childhood.
Before the service, photos of Lartey were shown on a screen, tracing her life. She was shown as a young girl, holding a newborn, and as a teenager, arm-in-arm with friends as she graduated from high school. She smiled as she sat on the front stoop, grinned as she showed off a new outfit.
Looking on, a woman burst into tears, and cried out “No! No!” again and again. Another woman rushed to her side and held her close.
As she comforted the sobbing woman, she began to cry, too.