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A community weeps for a 17-year-old shot and killed while riding his bike in Point Breeze

Inside God’s Deliverance Church, the loved ones of Isaiah Odom, 17, sang until their voices cracked. They looked to God for strength, and begged for peace in Philadelphia.

Rachel Turner (center) sings at God’s Deliverance Church in Philadelphia on Sunday, three days after her son Isaiah Odom was shot and killed. Odom’s brother (left) and his sister Dawinea Lyons (right) sing along with Turner.
Rachel Turner (center) sings at God’s Deliverance Church in Philadelphia on Sunday, three days after her son Isaiah Odom was shot and killed. Odom’s brother (left) and his sister Dawinea Lyons (right) sing along with Turner.Read moreJessica Griffin / Staff Photographer

The walls of a small North Philadelphia church shook with grief and persistent love Sunday as a community gathered for the first service without its young drummer.

Inside Emmanuel’s Apostolic Church of Deliverance, the family and friends of 17-year-old Isaiah Odom sang until their voices cracked, shouted until their feet ached, and clapped until their hands burned. They held each other as they wept. They looked to God for strength, and begged for peace in Philadelphia.

In the words of Bishop John Cooper, it was gloom turned to glory.

“If we ever needed God, we need him now,” Cooper told the room.

Because just three days earlier, this family joined the thousands of others in Philadelphia who’ve lost a loved one to gun violence.

It was about 8:30 p.m. on Thursday when Isaiah left his Point Breeze home to pick up some food. He hopped on his bike and started down the street, but he wouldn’t make it 50 yards before two people with guns ambushed him, police said.

They shot him multiple times. He was taken to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, but died shortly after. No arrests had been made.

Isaiah is the third juvenile to be fatally shot this year. In January, two 16-year-olds, Semaj Richardson and Shaheed Saoud, were killed in separate shootings.

Isaiah was a thoughtful, giving, and musically gifted young man, loved ones said, and his death has upended the lives of his large blended family. His mother, Rachel Turner, is now forced to see her South Philadelphia block as a crime scene. His brothers and sisters are left to play basketball and dance on their own. His girlfriend, Tameyah Dennis, is forced to wonder whether young love is supposed to be this painful.

“He was the other half of me,” said Dennis, 14.

Isaiah, known to family as “Zay” or “Bam Bam,” was a junior at South Philadelphia High School. He was raised worshipping at Emmanuel’s, near 24th and Lehigh, and started playing drums for the service at a young age.

Soon, he became the main drummer, and every Sunday, his community could count on seeing him behind the set, delivering the beats and rhythm that kept them up and connected to the Lord. He had just asked the church to order new drumsticks, cymbals, a seat and a foot pedal, Cooper said. The items arrived earlier this week, but he never got a chance to use them.

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At the start of Sunday’s nearly three-hour service, the drum set sat still and untouched. At first, church elders wondered whether they should go without the instrument for the day.

But how could they honor Isaiah without them? Cooper asked.

So in his place, his two older brothers played throughout the afternoon, as his mother sang at the front of the room alongside two of her other children.

At one point, Turner’s voice gave out and tears streamed down her face. She danced toward the drum set, and put her hands on the high tom. Her family surrounded her, holding her up as she leaned forward, her feet continuously moving to the gospel music.

Slowly, her family joined her on the floor, shouting where Isaiah’s feet once moved. People took turns holding each other up. They lifted their arms to the sky and wept, their sobs drowned out only by the music.

“Lord, please help us,” people cried.

» READ MORE: A weekend of gun violence in Philadelphia shows the incalculable, yet cruelly normal, level of trauma that residents must endure.

And then came Isaiah’s stepfather, Bishop Kenneth Lyons. He prayed to the Holy Ghost. He sang Isaiah’s name as sweat trickled down his face. He assured them that this gathering would pale in comparison to the funeral this week.

“You can kill his body, but you can’t do nothing to the soul,” Lyons said.

It was a family in mourning, but also in celebration. A testimony to their love for Isaiah, and trust in God.

But it was also a reckoning, as throughout the sermon elders called on each other to step up and stop the violence ripping through the community.

“Our young people are suffering. They need us,” Pastor Sarah Goosby said. “City of Brotherly Love, where is the love?”

The church service came the morning after the family gathered on the corner where Isaiah was killed, clutching bouquets of blue, black, and silver balloons that spelled “Zay.”

“You left me too soon,” his mother said. “Check in on me.”

Neighbors stepped outside and dropped their heads, and Turner, too, made a final plea to any who’d listen.

“Put the damn guns down,” she yelled. “They took my baby boy.”

Finally, they released the balloons. But while most blew off into the cold, dark sky, the letter “Z” was briefly stuck, its string wrapped around the telephone pole.

“He’s still here,” his sister Dawinea Lyons said, smiling.

His brothers lit tea candles on the ground. People silently wrote goodbyes on a small posterboard.

Then, the balloon became untangled and flew away.

“He’s going,” Lyons said. “Bye, Zay.”

She hugged her sisters, and they walked toward the house.

Correction: An earlier version of this story shared an outdated name of the church.