Xavier Usanga was remembered as a bright young boy with an infectious, vibrant smile who always made sure others around him were happy.
A prayer vigil for the 7-year-old who was fatally shot was held Aug. 14 in front of his home on North 14th Street. Nearly 200 people spilled into the street near Most Holy Trinity Church in the Hyde Park neighborhood of St. Louis, where the family has been active parishioners for years.
Xavier was fatally shot Aug. 12 outside of his home. He was supposed to start second grade at Clay Elementary School the following day. An 18-year-old near him also was injured in the shooting. A person connected to the shooting is in custody; no charges had been filed at press time.
Sister Janice Munier, SSND, parish life coordinator at Most Holy Trinity, said that parishioners have been calling with offers of financial support as well as meals for the Usanga family. Xavier was the youngest of six children; his five older sisters were always looking out for him.
Sister Janice described Xavier as “full of life. He was a preemie. When they brought him to church, he was tiny, tiny, tiny. We’ve all known him as this loving child.”
She spoke of his involvement at church, including a time when he was invited to carry the baby Jesus in a procession at midnight Mass on Christmas, and another time when he found a baby lamb stuffed toy hidden at an Easter Mass. “He was just a super, special kid,” she said. “The two younger girls (two of his sisters) and the boy were always together. They’re known to the community and would go to community events when we have things in Hyde Park.”
Church representatives, community officials, police and family were among those who spoke at the vigil, which was organized by the St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition. Many called for increased action within the community to stop the violence and to build up neighborhoods.
“As a community we need to start saying, ‘What can I do to help?’” said Xavier’s grandmother, Mary Norwood, who made a personal appeal to offer help to anyone who needed it. “My wish for everybody out here is that we start looking around and taking responsibility for your neighborhood. Form those committees and say how are we going to improve our neighborhoods. We’ve got to leave the world better than when we got it.”
Norwood said she’d like to see the vacant lot next to Xavier’s house made into a park. She trembled when she said she forgives the person who killed her grandson. “I forgive you, because I have anger inside of me and I don’t want to hold it inside of me,” she said. “My heart is bleeding, but I know a God, and I know where He’s at. I know He’s got my baby and he’s OK. I’m worried about the babies out here.”
Third Ward Alderman Brandon Bosley was among those who called on the crowd to renew efforts to organize neighborhoods. St. Louis has ranked number one for homicides, he said. “That ain’t nothing to be proud of,” he shouted. “We have to change the stereotypes, we have to change the rhetoric, we have to change the conversation. It’s on every one of us.”
Precious Usanga, 18, and her sisters were always looking out for their little brother. Their parents, Ifiok and Dawn Usanga, had two other boys who died in infancy, “and we were afraid he was going to pass too,” as a preemie, Precious said. “He was always happy. And in a way he was fine in not getting his way — as long as everybody else was happy he was happy.”
JoAnn Milo-Gibson, a retired family community specialist at Clay Elementary School where Xavier attended, described him as “a bundle of joy. He was sweet, always ready to work. Some days he’d come in and he wouldn’t be feeling good, and then we would just tell him do your best. He was just a wonderful child.” Referring to the person who shot Xavier she said, “You took a little kid’s life. This hurts so bad. I never dreamed I would be here for this. I thought I would be seeing him in second grade.”
Tiniki Steele, who runs a day care in the neighborhood, stopped after the vigil to view the memorial of photos, action figures and other mementos placed in front of the Usanga family home. “He was always smiling, always so happy an energetic,” she said. “He was always with his sisters, all throughout the neighborhood. You’d see them all the time.”