Relatives and friends of slain teenager Precious Alex overflowed from the church where her funeral service was held Thursday in the Anchorage community of Mountain View. Speakers at the service painted the picture of an intelligent, intensely loyal, and caring girl who was deeply loved by all who knew her. They also implored the audience to change -- to give up on violence and to better the community.
Alex died after being shot twice while in bed at home in the early hours of April 1. Three people have been charged with her murder. At all three arraignments, dozens of family members appeared, overflowing from the Anchorage Correctional Complex courtroom. The turnout at Thursday's service flooded the church, and grandmother Dana Sweatt would later say the "outpouring of love is tremendous."
The service was held at the New Hope Baptist Church in Mountain View, and the building's nearly 300-person capacity was pushed to its limits. Additional seating was provided in the choir section and downstairs in a foyer that broadcast the service on a television monitor. Some people chose to stand in the church doorway.
A viewing of Alex in a half-open casket adorned with flowers, a sheer pink fabric and woven Samoan mat, was held before the service. Alex wore a tiara and a pink sequined dress. As the viewing began, grandmother Dana Sweatt began to shake and hyperventilate, causing a flurry of commotion in the front of the church. Medics were called and the viewing stopped while she was taken out on a stretcher by the Anchorage Fire Department. She returned before the service began, rejoining the family seated in the front row.
Hundreds poured into the church for the viewing as ushers scrambled to keep people from overflowing the room. With so many people waiting to see Alex, the viewing had to be cut short before the service, and was taken up again after the service concluded.
Reverend John E. Smith Jr. led the service's opening prayer, urging attendees that it was all right to cry. The question as to why Alex died -- "Why? Why now?" -- could not be answered, he said, but addressing God, he said "we know that all things are in your hands."
After a reading from the New Testament, a "praise dance" was held, and a girl dressed in a flowing white-and-blue dress danced up and down the left aisle, accompanied by piano and a singer.
Dozens of family and friends then took the stage, all of them referring to Alex as "Nae Nae," her nickname. They spoke of how much they loved and missed her, of her intelligence and bright smile, and also implored the audience to let her death be a call to action to end violence.
Alex's mother, Demetra Alex, spoke first. "May 10, 1998, was Mother's Day, and I had a daughter, and I named her Precious," she said. "I know you're watching me, baby," she said. "I just miss you so much."
Alex's brother Austin Cottrell spoke while his mother stood beside him. "The last thing (Alex) said to me was, 'I love you brother.'" He said he didn't understand why someone would do what they did to Alex, but that the only fault lay with the people who allegedly committed the crime. Demetra Alex's fiancée Quintin Hargrove, who allegedly had fought one of the men charged with murder a few weeks prior, was not to blame, he said.
Alex's cousin Sharayne Townes-Sweatt recounted how she lost her younger sister, Citari Townes-Sweatt, 10 months ago at the age of 20 when Citari was hit by an alleged drunk driver. Citari's funeral had been held in the same church. Townes-Sweatt asked the audience to learn from Alex's death. "Take heed of this," Townes-Sweatt said. "The street is not loyal."
"Let Nae Nae make you a better person."
Alex's grandmother Losivale Talamaivao also asked the audience to take heed. "Nea Nae died such a senseless death, but if nothing good comes of it, it's worthless," she said. "Do something with your lives."
Many of Alex's friends from high school spoke about her lively spirit and kindness. A teenager named Addy said that Alex's family had taken her in during rough times, and she lived with them for more than a year. "I still can't believe it," she said of Alex's death. "I'm glad I got to spend my life with her."
A young boy named Malachi broke down when he approached the microphone. "I just wish Nae was here," he said.
Nearing the end of the speeches, Dana Sweatt spoke forcefully about being gracious to God and changing one's life. "We're allowed to be angry," she said. "I'm angry." Sweatt said she would fight spiritually, not physically, and told the younger generations to "pull your pants up, get that stuff out of your pockets."
She spoke of the mischievous glint Alex had in her eyes and her "fierce loyalty to everyone, especially her mother. She was somebody to be reckoned with when it was about her family," Sweatt said. "Precious is very special. She binds all the heart of us in here."
After the speeches, Alex's family on her father's side performed a song. Then her obituary was read aloud, followed by a prayer by minister Carolyn Know.
Demetra Alex and Sharayne Townes-Sweatt then performed "One Sweet Day" by Mariah Carey, with Demetra pausing to cry as the song played. Family and friends joined them in the front, one by one. Afterwards, they huddled together, hugging.
Reverend Smith Jr. finished the service. He asked God to help the family through the grieving process. "May we begin to change Mountain View" and end violence in the community, he said.