A candlelight vigil for Anthony Hartfield Jr. ended on the basketball court where he spent hours playing pickup games with friends, honing the skills he hoped would help him pay for college.
The small outdoor court on the north side of Western Hills Baptist Church was full of friends and family Wednesday night. They came to mourn the loss of Hartfield, who was shot to death during a home invasion Monday.
Mourners spoke about Hartfield's contagious smile, goofy sense of humor and determination to rise up and make something of his life.
“You were never bored around him; his smile brightened up your day,” said Parres Drake, a friend he met at U.S. Grant High School. “He was the last person you'd think this would happen to.”
Drake said life at an inner-city high school was full of pressures, but Hartfield marched ahead, undeterred, encouraging his friends and classmates.
“He used basketball to keep out of trouble,” she said. “We had friends who messed up and are in gangs, but he pushed everyone to do better. He would say ‘You're better than that. You've got so much more to offer.'”
Hartfield told his friends anything was possible, Drake said.
Saundra Littlejohn, Drake's mother, was struck by how mature and focused Hartfield was.
“He knew where he was going and what he needed to do to get there,” Littlejohn said. “He kept saying that doors were opening for him, and he embraced it. It's rare to find that in a young adult.”
She was glad her daughter had such a reliable and determined friend.
“He didn't drink, didn't do drugs. That's what makes this whole thing so horrific ... I hate that this happened to Anthony. He was just starting his adult life on a positive note, so for it to end so tragically, it's a wake-up call for all of us.”