Family and friends on Saturday mourned Walter Wallace Jr. with prayer, song, laughter tinged with tears, and renewed calls for peace during an investigation into his shooting death last month by Philadelphia police.
Several hundred people packed into the National Baptist Temple Church in North Philadelphia during an emotional but upbeat service after a two-hour viewing. A choir belted out uplifting gospel songs that brought the congregation to its feet.
They filed past Wallace’s open casket to pay respects to an aspiring rapper known by his family as “Wally Bean” and “Bump.” Some paused to kiss his cheek or stroke his folded hands.
“He was just a genuinely caring person,” said fellow rapper Chad Telfer, 27, who wore a shirt with Wallace’s picture. “He was like a brother to me.”
The most poignant moment came when Wallace’s wife of just 24 days, Dominique, tearfully addressed mourners. The couple met in 2014. She gave birth to his ninth child, a daughter, just days after he was killed.
”They took him from me,” she sobbed standing at the front of the church, before collapsing into the arms of relatives. “My daughter won’t be able to know her father. What am I supposed to tell her?”
Wallace, 27, was killed Oct. 26 after police responded to his family’s Locust Street home in the Cobbs Creek section after a series of 911 calls made by a sister, brother, and neighbor who said the mentally ill man was assaulting his parents.
There were a few passing references to the shooting by District Attorney Larry Krasner and religious and elected officials during the nearly three-hour service. A former teacher, Cynthia Jefferson, urged the mourners to honor Wallace by exceeding ”beyond the ordinary,” not by “looting, rooting, and tooting.”
Krasner thanked the family for their efforts to help keep peace in the city, especially after the city on Wednesday released graphic police bodycam footage from the incident. The 911 tape and police radio calls that preceded the shooting were also made public.
”Philadelphia owes you a lot,” Krasner told the family.
”Yes, they do,” someone called out. The church erupted in applause.
A minister read the names of other Black men and women killed by police around the country. A mourner wore a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and another read a poem about the social movement.
”People who put on uniforms are supposed to protect and preserve life,” said State. Rep. Joanna McClinton (D., Phila.). “That’s not what the world witnessed.”
When the chaotic events unfolded, Wallace was holding a knife as police arrived, authorities said. He walked from the home toward two officers, who, with guns drawn, repeatedly told him to drop the knife before firing 14 times as he continued to advance toward them.
The officers were identified by Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw as Thomas Munz Jr., 26, a three-year veteran of the force, and Sean Matarazzo, 25, on the force since 2018. Wallace’s mother, Kathy Brant, witnessed the shooting and screamed, “You killed my son!”
The family’s attorney, Shaka Johnson, on Friday called for sweeping reforms in the Police Department and the city’s mental health services. He criticized the Police Department for failing to equip its officers with Tasers.
Johnson has also called for the officers to be fired. A decision is pending on whether they will face any charges in the shooting.
”They didn’t have to kill him,” said Joseph Askew, 71, who worked with Wallace’s father and was among those who turned out Saturday to mourn his son. "They could have shot him in the leg, anything. It’s crazy.”
A cousin, the Rev. Roosevelt Brant 3rd, pastor of Integrity Christian Center in Chester, preached forgiveness in the eulogy, saying Wallace’s death “is about making a difference.”
“We want you to know we forgive,” he said. “We feel that our loved one was taken away from us unjustly.”
Wallace was remembered as a prankster who enjoyed playing video games and sports, especially basketball against his twin sister, Wynnette. A handyman who would try to fix almost anything, he was dependable and an avid learner, according to his obituary.
”We never saw Walt having a disability,” the family wrote. “We saw The Man who fought through it and did so with his best ability.”
They said Wallace loved his family and being a father.
Before the casket was closed, a red velvet crown with gold trim was placed inside. Four pallbearers in crisp white jackets hoisted the casket onto their shoulders and carried it from the church. Wallace was to be buried at Eden Cemetery in Darby.
“Walt, a great soul serves everyone and never dies,” his family wrote in the program. It brings us together every time we think of you!”