ST. LOUIS – The homicides in St. Louis keep climbing. Now, funeral directors are trying their hand at making a difference. This Sunday at 1 o’clock, a group of funeral directors and roughly two dozen hearses will parade through St. Louis neighborhoods; a mock funeral to open residents’ eyes to the violence plaguing the community.
At the Ronald L. Jones funeral home, Cynthia Allen sat sobbing. She was there making funeral arrangements for her 22-year-old son, Roger Sales. Sales is the latest homicide victim in St. Louis, and the 111th this year. He and another young man were killed in north St. Louis Sunday night in a drive-by shooting. Through tears, his mother says, “My son got killed and that’s just not right. Why do people just keep killing people?”
She knows something needs to be done to stop young people from losing their lives. The problem, according to Funeral Director Ronald Jones, is that many of them have nothing to look forward to. He explains, “It disheartens me when I see young people come into my funeral home and say this is the casket that I want, because he’s telling me has nothing in life to live for, except a grave.”
The problem of violence also all too real for A.L. Beal Funeral Director Michael Murray, who trained under Jones. He says, “I had a friend when I was about 21 years old get killed, and his death still affects me to this day. So violence affects everyone, and it affects you for a long period of time.”
These funeral directors experience the consequences of violence personally and professionally, with the bullet wounds they artfully mask, so families can have one last look at their loved ones, and closure. Gesturing to a photo of a woman he embalmed, Jones says, “She was killed on a white castle lot. She was shot 11 times in the head and face. It took me a whole day of just sewing all the wounds in her face, and the second day was putting her back together.” Jones adds, “This is not the way we want to make our money.”
Sunday’s mock funeral procession kicks off a several-day national convention of funeral directors, taking place in St. Louis this year. Murray says, “We’ll be standing together, showing them that it affects us too. We don’t like to see mothers cry.”
Sitting at the funeral parlor, Cynthia Allen wishes she weren’t.