The Rev. Tommie L. Williams stood behind a glass lectern inside Calvary Christian Center on Saturday morning, clutching a pink towel that he used to dab sweat from his face. For the past 90 minutes, his Del Paso Heights flock had sung and prayed, laughed and cried as they celebrated Jaulon “J.J.” Clavo, a Grant High School football player gunned down before a game 15 days earlier.
Now, Williams’ community had turned to one of their pastors.
“One of the things I’ve learned in life, no matter where I go, no matter where I live, is that there ain’t nothing like Del Paso Heights,” he said from the altar, greeted by applause from the packed church.
He looked down.
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“It pains me, and I’m never going to accept it,” the longtime unofficial pastor of Grant’s football team said. “I’m tired of burying our babies.”
Three teenagers have been killed in the Del Paso Heights area since April, and 14 have been killed in Sacramento County this year. But it was the shooting death of Clavo – a 17-year-old cornerback on the venerable Grant Pacers – that has shaken this often neglected neighborhood hardest.
To celebrate Clavo, Del Paso Heights’ residents, pastors, teachers, coaches and young people lit up the halls of Calvary Christian, which lent its space for the occasion. They began lining up for his funeral service an hour before it started, standing silently in the bright sunshine of Del Paso Boulevard. And when they entered the church, the mourners were greeted by a festive display.
A photograph of a smiling Clavo was projected onto a large screen above the altar. The recording of a church choir singing a joyous hymn rang out from the loudspeakers. Enormous bouquets of blue and gold flowers – the proud colors of Grant High School – stood on either side of Clavo’s casket.
“This gathering has to be a celebration of a young man who lived a life we wanted him to live,” Mayor Kevin Johnson told the audience. “We have to celebrate J.J. for what he did, for what he stood for.”
Clavo’s family filled four rows of the church. Neighborhood pastors took up two more. Among the final mourners to enter the service were Clavo’s Grant teammates, some wearing T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with the young man’s face.
“I can come to celebrations like this and find out what the true spirit of life is,” said Mike Alberghini, Grant’s football coach the past 25 years. “We can gather and remember a fallen brother who is looking down on us, and that’s comforting to me.”
Clavo, a senior at Grant, had dreams of playing football at the University of Oregon and in the NFL. He was witty and lighthearted, considered himself to be a ladies’ man and doted on his mother, sisters and grandmothers. The police have described him as a truly innocent victim, a term investigators rarely use to describe those who fall to street violence.
Clavo was killed doing the same thing countless teenagers do throughout Sacramento every day: He was driving around with his buddies. It was 3:30 in the afternoon on a Friday, Nov. 13, a few hours before Grant was to take the field in a playoff game, and Clavo and four teammates had headed out for a pregame meal.
Their car approached a three-way stop sign at Silver Eagle Road and Mabel Street, where an unknown assailant fired, striking Clavo in the neck. His friends rushed back to the Grant campus – about 2 miles away – but Clavo couldn’t be saved.
“Wherever he was, I was always right next to him,” said Malik Johnson, one of three Grant players to speak during the funeral. Johnson was riding with Clavo and was shot in an arm. “Now my brother is famous. It’s a shame it has to be this way.”
In the days since the shooting, the Del Paso Heights community has raised thousands of dollars in an attempt to compel someone to come forward with information on Clavo’s shooting. The California Correctional Police Officers Association this week committed $15,000 to the effort, matching an amount raised by community leaders. Clavo’s mother, Nicole Clavo, is a labor negotiator for the correctional officers union.
The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors is also scheduled to approve adding $5,000 to the fund at its Dec. 8 meeting.
As of Saturday, the police had made no arrests in the case.
From his sermon, Williams implored the neighborhood’s young people to “put the guns down.” The word “justice” was repeated many times throughout the service.
“You look at this young man right here, you see that smile?” Mayor Johnson said, pointing to one of the photos of Clavo. “His life cannot be in vain. For us to fully accept what took place on Nov. 13, we’ve got to bring justice. J.J. was strong, he lived the right life.
“Now it’s up to us to do our part.”