A pastor speaks: 'We have to have police presence. There's fear there may be retaliation.'

·5 min read
Bryan Walker, Walker Funeral Homes manager and the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, stands inside the church. Walker said he's done more funerals the past two years than he's ever done in his 10 years as a funeral home director.
Bryan Walker, Walker Funeral Homes manager and the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, stands inside the church. Walker said he's done more funerals the past two years than he's ever done in his 10 years as a funeral home director.

This year in Hamilton County, 15 juveniles have been charged with murder, more than were charged in the last four years combined. Why the increase? 'Kids Who Kill,' The Enquirer's series on juvenile violence, continues with this conversation.

Bryan Walker is manager of operations at Walker Funeral Homes, where he's worked for the last 10 years frequently preaching eulogies at funeral services in the Cincinnati area. He's also pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Walnut Hills.

Enquirer reporter Quinlan Bentley: How many funeral services this year have been homicides?

Walker: Walker Funeral as a home, we did probably about 20 or so homicides. Me personally, that was actually involved in dealing with the family, was three. And one of them that was really a tearjerker and exhausting was a mistaken identity. Another one, wrong place, wrong time. And people don't understand, you know, you asked me about being draining, to hear a mother cry over their child, I'll never forget it.

When you have homicides in our community, it's an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. I've done eulogies at funerals and I pleaded, I begged, you know, let us stop. Revenge doesn't fix it. I've seen it where one week, you know, people get up, revenge is coming, the next week the person that did it is in the casket. And who suffers? The kids. The families. Mothers and fathers. No one wins.

Dealing with these families, interacting with these families when they come for a funeral service, what do you say to them?

So, I think what's a good thing about our community is that the community that we serve has some sort of faith base. So, that helps that we can take a time to pray. We can take a time to relax.

Honestly, there are some times where I'm their first person to respond to the loved one passing. So, a lot of the things are taken out on me. Can't take it personal. This is their son, this is their daughter. And it's a lot of empathy and sympathy. It goes hand in hand.

So, really taking our time, really explaining what's going on and making it more or less a life celebration even depending on the age. Of course, funerals, we would love it to be 80, 85, 90 years old, but we have 16,17,18. It's tough, it's rough. So, you can't take it personal.

A lot of the time we have to be their counselor, their priest, their friend, their family. It depends on the family which hat. Sometimes I had to be the pastor, strictly the pastor. Sometimes I had to be the counselor. And sometimes I just had to be the friend and listen. We have a staff that has tried our best to have follow up to make sure you're doing OK.

Our community is not a big community, so I still see these people. I'm gonna see these people and I have a link to these people – instead of just keeping communication – and showing them that there is love even in the funeral.

And through your role as pastor at Bethel Baptist Church but then also doing eulogies, what toll have you observed that these homicides are taking on the community?

I was talking about how many times we've been at this church and we've heard gunshots. That's hard because this is our community. And then it hits home when you know the people that are involved.

I mean, when I tell you week after a week, you know, and it's a thing where you see them walk through that door, and you're asking the question, 'Why are you here?' You know why they're here, but you hope 'I just come to bring you lunch,' or 'I just come and say hi' and it's never the case. It's tough when you see people walk in your funeral home and you know what's about to come. There's been some times I had to walk out of the service.

During your pastoral duties, have you seen expressions of grief, or whatever the reaction may be, from members of the community?

Absolutely. Well, a lot of times, also, we have a lot of funerals here at the church with Walker Funeral Homes. And so, a lot of the members know the families that are involved. So, of course, that transpires here. We're a community church, and so we have celebrations as far as weddings, but we also have celebrations as far as funerals. So, of course, the members are aware especially in our community.

It just hits home when you see it on the news one day on Sunday and then Monday you're sitting down with the family praying about their loved one. So yeah, it's brought a sort of sense of sadness because again, many people can empathize that a 16-year-old got murdered, never went to prom, never had kids, will never go to college, is taken from them at such a young age.

Have these homicides taken a toll on yourself and your staff at Walker Funeral Homes?

Our goal is to promote celebration. Like I said, we want older people that lived life. So, when you have a young person it brings a different mentality. When you have a 16-year-old or 14-year-old, you have a lot more people. Still COVID, you know, we're still trying to keep separation. So, we've had high schools shut down to go to funerals.

With that being said, when it's a murder, we have to have police presence because we don't know if there's gonna be retaliation. So now, you have staff that's nervous, you have family that's nervous. And then to see it was supposed to be a celebration, to have the police department with cars, undercover police in services, how is that a celebration? Because there's fear there may be retaliation.

The above conversation has been edited for clarity. Enquirer reporter Quinlan Bentley recorded and transcribed the interview before editing. In some cases, questions and answers have been shortened and moved to make the conversations easier to follow and to remove unnecessary asides and repetitions.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: A pastor speaks: 'We have a police presence. There's fear of retaliation.'

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting