Community mourns Fort Worth police shooting victim Atatiana Jefferson at funeral

Hundreds of mourners from across the nation gathered in Dallas on Thursday to grieve the passing of Atatiana Jefferson.

Her bright life was cut short on Oct. 12 by a former Fort Worth police officer’s bullet after she stood in front of a darkened window in her mother’s house with a gun in her hand, according to police records.

Jefferson heard a noise outside her window, rose from playing video games with her nephew, retrieved her gun from her purse, and then walked to the rear of the house to determine what was causing the noise, according to an arrest warrant affidavit charging the officer with murder.

Less than four seconds later, Jefferson was shot. According to their preliminary investigation, police never announced their presence at the Allen Avenue residence.

“How she lived is how we all aspire to be remembered, as someone who was dedicated to family and to her betterment,” said Lee Merritt, the legal representative for Jefferson’s mother.

Merritt said that the police officer named as the shooter in Jefferson’s case has received preferential treatment from police from the start. Fort Worth residents who are concerned about seeing justice done cannot let this case fade from public scrutiny, Merritt said.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand,” Merritt said. “The protests must continue.”

Jefferson’s mother, Yolanda Carr, could not be at the funeral but asked that a statement from her be read to those in attendance. Carr said she admired her daughter’s humble boldness and her joy for life.

“You also said you would change the world and I believe you still will through your sacrifice,” Carr said.

Atatiana’s father, Marquis Jefferson — who attended the service but also had a statement read — said his daughter had blessed him just by being in his life, and then he quoted an unknown author.

“A father holds his daughter’s hand for only a short while,” his statement said. “But he holds her heart forever.”

Funeral services that had been scheduled for Saturday at the Potter’s House in Dallas were postponed and moved to the Concord Church in Dallas on Thursday morning due to a disagreement between family members that ended up being settled in a Dallas County probate court.

The parking lot was full but the church sanctuary where the crowd for the funeral gathered seemed only sparsely occupied.

Pastor Bryan Carter, who said he did not know the family, said Concord Church was approached Monday and agreed to host the funeral.

The family wanted the funeral to represent a beginning of healing, Carter said.

‘God is a promise of strength,’ pastor says

Atatiana was known for being smart and known for being caring, Carter said. He likened the end of her life to an earthquake. There are moments like that in life, times when it seems as though there is nothing that you can depend on, Carter said.

“The truth is that many of us are tired,” Carter said. “We are tired of talking to our children about police, tired of crying mothers, tired of funerals, tired of checking the box, tired of hoping the jury will come back with a just verdict.”

The Bible says God is shelter, our refuge when storms come, Carter said. When the earthquake comes, you can run to God.

God is also a promise of strength, Carter said.

“Not only does God have strength, He is a God who will give you strength,” Carter said.

There are things that happen in your life that only God can help you through, he said.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and several members of the City Council were present at the funeral along with several city administrators. Also seen were former Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald conversing with interim Police Chief Ed Kraus. Officers hugged Fitzgerald as they passed.

Merritt said that former Dallas Mavericks star Harrison Barnes and Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Malik Jackson were still paying for the funeral. Through a spokesperson, Jackson said Wednesday that he has reached out to families in need before to aid them when they have reached a low point.

“Simply put, because it’s the right thing to do,” Jackson said.

Atantiana Jefferson (b).jpg
Atatiana Jefferson was shot and killed on Oct. 12 by a Fort Worth police officer. Courtesy: Facebook

A life cut short

Before Jefferson died at 28, she graduated with a degree in biology from Xavier University. Plans for medical school were put on hold while she cared for an ailing mother and helped care for her 8-year-old nephew and other family members.

Jefferson had been working as a pharmaceutical sales representative since graduating from college.

Until she gained international recognition for being struck by a bullet fired by Aaron York Dean, a former Fort Worth police officer who resigned from the force two days after killing her, the public knew little about Jefferson’s life, goals and aspirations.

The Jefferson shooting occurred about a week after Amber Guyger, a white former Dallas police officer, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for shooting and killing Botham Jean, a black accountant who was sitting in his own home watching television on the day of his killing.

Guyger testified at her murder trial in September that she believed Jean was a criminal intruder inside her apartment, but she realized after shooting him that she had entered the wrong apartment.

In the days after Jefferson’s death, police released body camera footage from outside the house where she was babysitting her nephew, and the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office announced that it would seek an indictment for murder against the ex-police officer.

The body camera footage included photos that showed a gun on the floor of Jefferson’s residence, but Price said during a press conference that the gun was immaterial to the case and that she did not know why the images of the gun were released.

Hours after Dean resigned, he was arrested by police on a murder charge. Less than three hours after his arrest, Dean was freed from jail after satisfying a $200,000 bond.

Dean has exercised his right to remain silent, which is available to any suspect, and has not agreed to be interviewed by Fort Worth police detectives investigating the shooting, according to police.

So far in 2019, more than 700 people have been shot and killed by police officers, or about two to three people each day, according to the Washington Post.

Victor Pratt, the son of a retired Fort Worth police officer who now lives in Grand Prairie and said that he grew up around police in Fort Worth, brought a bouquet of red roses to the funeral to present to others in attendance.

“I wanted to take a pause and show Atatiana Jefferson that her life meant something,” Pratt said. “I just wanted to pay my respects.”

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Mitch Mitchell is an award-winning reporter covering courts and crime for the Star-Telegram. Additionally, Mitch’s past coverage on municipal government, healthcare and social services beats allow him to bring experience and context to the stories he writes.