She was a mother remembering her dead son, 29-year-old Kevin Thompson.
“I cannot shed tears for Kevin, because he is with Jesus,” Frances Curry said to the 500 who came to bury the late Wellborn Elementary School teacher. “I stand here as a proud parent of Kevin Tyrone Thompson.”
Thompson, a Jacksonville resident, died April 21; two days later, police discovered his body alongside U.S. 278 in Cherokee County. Investigators suspect one of Thompson’s childhood friends and two others robbed, kidnapped and murdered the third-grade teacher.
The Saturday funeral for Thompson followed in the vein of the candlelight vigils held for him after his disappearance and again after his body was found: It served as a testament to the hundreds of lives Thompson touched during his short lifetime.
The great sanctuary at Cornerstone Worship Center was filled. Traffic along Choccolocco Road was backed up half a mile in each direction 40 minutes before the service’s 1 p.m. start.
It was not a service for those who came to grieve.
A slideshow of pictures filtered across flat-screen televisions in the sanctuary. The snapshots of a smiling Thompson and a service bulletin that deemed the funeral “a homecoming celebration” sent this message: Today is about the joy of Thompson’s life.
Those who spoke during the two-hour service followed that celebratory theme.
Rena Curry, Thompson’s sister, recalled funny moments from their childhood, when her brother was a less-than-perfect student.
“You should have heard him as a kid: ‘a ‘D’ is what I need to make, a ‘D’ is what I shall make,” Rena said, laughing as she noted she still couldn’t believe the boy who made that statement turned out to be such a gifted teacher.
A woman who graduated from Anniston High School with Thompson in 1999 grinned as she remembered the way he was determined — even as a teenager — to have a successful career.
Thompson worked multiple jobs to pay his way through college at Jacksonville State University, where he graduated in 2006 and obtained a master’s degree this December.
“He didn’t try to be anybody else; he was just Kevin,” said the woman, who did not identify herself to the crowd before speaking. “The end, though it may not look like it, is sweeter than the beginning…we came to celebrate his life.”
Wellborn Elementary principal Douglas O’Dell read written remarks he’d prepared about Thompson’s excellence as a third-grade teacher.
“This man listened to what his children had to tell him every day,” O’Dell said. “He never seemed to lose his cool, but he knew when to have a sense of urgency … I was grateful to have him for just a little while.”
During each speaker’s comments, the 500 or so funeral attendees hummed with the bittersweet sounds of appreciation — raw laughs, applause strung through with stifled sobs, a chorus of “amen”s and “God bless you”s to punctuate the silence between spoken thoughts.
But the crowd was most vocal, most moved to expression when Thompson’s mother laid bare her memories of the boy she watched grow up.
Face still tilted to some heaven she could see, Frances Curry spoke first of the time Thompson surprised her with flowers on Valentine’s Day.
He was probably 10 years old at the time, she said. Every day, he would ride his bicycle to Evans Flower Shop to make a deposit on the bouquet he hoped to send his mother on Valentine’s Day.
Curry didn’t know anything about her son’s endeavors. The flower man told her later, on that Feb. 14 when he brought her “the most beautiful bouquet.”
Kevin had come every day with money to pay for it, the flower man told the mother. Some days he’d have a dollar; other days just a nickel and a dime.
“Every day he would say, ‘you’re going to make it pretty, aren’t you?’” Curry recalled the flower man had told her. “He persevered. He was determined he was going to send me flowers.”
Later, Curry beamed as she talked about Thompson’s love for Wellborn Elementary, where his teaching career began and so suddenly ended.
“Your school was the last school Kevin ever thought would give him a job,” she said, addressing the Wellborn staff and students at the funeral. “It was the biggest, best door Kevin ever walked through. Wellborn Elementary, I will always love each and every one of you for what you did for my son.”
Still, there were a few keen moments of grief that punctuated the overall uplifting tone of the service.
When O’Dell first began speaking about Thompson, his voice broke. The principal’s large body shook.
“I realized I was speaking on behalf of my teachers and my students,” O’Dell said, weeping. “Thank you to Ms. Curry; thank you for giving us Superman.”
When Curry took the microphone a final time after her daughter read a Christmas message Thompson posted on Facebook last December, a somber look crossed her face.
“I’d like to say to those families of everyone involved in my son’s demise: Don’t shy away from me. I spare no ill will against anyone, but I will say I miss him,” the mother said. “I ask you to embrace the families of those involved in my son’s murder, and I also ask you to pray for the victims of the tornadoes that came through.”
The sounds of quiet crying filled the room for a moment as the 500 took in Curry’s words of forgiveness and recognition of the victims of the storms that swept Alabama Wednesday.
As the Rev. Roosevelt Parker took the stage for a short eulogy, his emphatic words gathered the crowd back into the homecoming celebration Frances Curry wanted Saturday to be.
Parker instructed the funeral attendees to clap and to rejoice in Thompson’s life.
“Kevin was a very unique young man,” Parker said. “I learned to love him like he was my son.”
Yes, the applause and “amen”s from the audience said, we loved him, too.
Star staff writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562.