Simone-Monea Rogers was supposed to be shaking off first-day-of-school jitters like every other teenager in Philadelphia. She was supposed to be getting in her final three-on-three games before ninth grade began. Supposed to be practicing chess with her grandmother.
Instead, the girl who was 15 years old for only eight days, was shot on Aug. 17 while she was playing basketball at the Jerome Brown Playground in North Philadelphia and died the next day at Temple University Hospital. Rogers, a mild-mannered teenager with an easy smile, was struck by a stray bullet, police say, and no one has been arrested.
On Thursday, her body lay in a casket in an Upper Darby cemetery as 92 people filed by, one by one, each dropping a rose or a lily on top. Elder Kasseim Faison softly sang “We will understand it better, by and by,” and her mother, Lendale Rogers, tearfully watched as they said goodbye to her “Mone.”
The killing thrust Rogers’ family into a state of devastation and confusion, and left her North Philadelphia community in shock. And it’s rocked her young friends, some of whom had just months ago donned white gowns with her and graduated from eighth grade at St. Barnabas Catholic School in Southwest Philadelphia.
Among those who left flowers in shades of red and white — Rogers’ favorite colors — were her siblings Caleb, Semaj, and little Carlee, who are now without the sister they described as “funny, yet serious.” There were her cousins, Lyla and Ari, who wore matching white dresses, and her best friend, Brooklyn, who felt more like family.
And there were those she was supposed to sit next to at West Catholic High School, which she was set to attend on a basketball scholarship.
There was Karlette Stewart, who was on the court the night Rogers was killed and ran at the sound of gunshots. The 33-year-old didn’t see from where the shots came, but once she was away from the scene and looked down, she realized her thigh was bleeding. She’d been grazed.
She said she got stitches and is no longer experiencing physical pain, but she’s still working through how to move forward without Rogers, who she said was “like a little sister.”
Rogers was a mainstay at the Jerome Brown Playground at 19th and Ontario Streets, around the corner from her family house. She was on that court so frequently, and so willing to lend a hand during picnics or tournaments, that neighbors assumed she worked there.
Among the mourners clutching flowers Thursday was Iris Mcbride, the 33-year-old mother who said Rogers was playing board games in her house two days before she was killed. She’s shaken and all too aware of the statistics — 358 people killed in Philadelphia this year, more than were killed in all of 2019. And of the more than 1,500 people shot, more than 140 were under age 18.
“I’m tired of seeing kids dying,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to deal with this.”
And there was Mcbride’s 16-year-old daughter, Malijah, who rushed to the hospital, even in the throes of disbelief, when she heard her friend had been shot. On Thursday, she leaned over the guest book at the Church of Christian Compassion in West Philadelphia, trying to quietly collect herself before she entered the sanctuary for her friend’s funeral.
It was the second time this year she had to go into that sanctuary to say goodbye to a teenage friend taken by gun violence.
Inside, Rogers’ coffin lay next to a basketball hoop, its backboard made of flowers. She was remembered as bright and ambitious and a little shy at first, but the type of girl who opened up, especially when she was on the court. She had dreams of playing professionally, and had also hoped to one day get into law enforcement, maybe become an FBI agent.
The Rev. G. Lamar Stewart told the dozens who gathered there that too many young people and their families have been victimized by gun violence, and that it’s impossible to digest.
“But for those of us who are people of faith, even in this moment, we have to figure out a way to be people of resolve,” he said. “We have to figure out a way to challenge our community to love again, to challenge our community to get along again.”
And he prayed over the casket as it was lowered into the ground. He asked the dozens of people around Rogers’ parents to stretch out their hands in support as he said, “We’re grateful, God, that you transitioned her to another court.”
Her mother, Lendale, dropped one final rose onto the casket and blew a kiss goodbye.