WARREN - The Rev. Troy Woods remembered Kirklan Michael Behner as his "junior superstar" - transitioning from youth and adolescence to a young man.
For close to two hours Friday morning a steady stream of mourners lined up to pay their respects and say goodbye to the 15-year-old remembered as someone "who was always there to give a helping hand" and "the first person to show up" to help, according to Warren Mayor Doug Franklin, who mentioned Behner's neighborhood cleanup efforts.
"There was just something about Kirklan that gravitated adults toward him," Franklin continued. "He had a joyful spirit that was contagious. We need to use Kirklan's life as a springboard."
Brian K. Henry, 18, of Warren, is comforted Friday by a mourner after the funeral for Kirklan M. Behner. Henry is one of the two survivors of a vehicle accident that killed Behner and five other Warren teens on Sunday. Photo by R. Michael Semple
Calling hours were extended to accommodate the hundreds of people - including family members, friends, community and school leaders, classmates and teachers - who poured into the sanctuary at North-Mar Church in Warren for the service.
It was the first of six funerals planned as the community mourns the teenagers killed when a speeding sport-utility vehicle crashed last weekend.
Family and friends say the ninth-grader loved to make others laugh and was known to shovel snow or carry groceries to help his neighbors.
He and five other teens died Sunday when an SUV struck a guardrail and flipped into a swampy pond on Niles-Warren River Road, an extension of Pine Avenue S.E., just beyond the city limits.
The other funerals are planned for today through Tuesday.
All of the victims were from Warren. In addition to Behner, also killed were Alexis Cayson, 19; Andrique Bennett, 14; Daylan Ray, 15; Brandon A. Murray, 17; and Ramone M. White, 15. Injured were Brian K. Henry, 18, and Asher C. Lewis, 15.
Behner's service consisted of scripture readings, prayers, condolences and music. Tears that streamed down the faces of his friends and classmates were replaced by smiles as the crowd recalled the joy Behner carried with him. Cries that could be heard echoing in the large hall became cheers and applause as the ministers who spoke reminded everyone that "today is a celebration of life."
The Rev. Anthony L. Davis and Woods of Genesis Christian Community Center of Niles knew Behner through his involvement in Mind, Body and Soul, the church's outreach ministry in the Trumbull Homes apartments where Kirklan lived.
Davis explained "Kirklan had this way" about him. He said he would try to advise Behner, but has now realized that rather than encouraging Behner to be more like him, he aspires to be more like Behner.
He said he would advise Behner that he "couldn't do this" or he "couldn't do that."
"He'd say 'Pastor, I got this' ... and ... I would say 'What do you have?' He'd say 'You don't know. You don't know ... I got this.'"
He said he used to pray for Behner and ask God to help "that young man."
"He's finally got it," Woods said. "He's got what we desire to have ... and I know it doesn't feel good right now ... but there will be times of loneliness ... but he has now achieved the greatest thing ... the greatest blessing ... that any man, or any woman, or any child would every hope to. There's no reason to ever hang your head about those who stand next to the cross. He's really just started living."
Davis advised the young people present to make this a lesson learned, to enjoy every moment they have, to make amends where needed. He advised adults to love everybody and to not be quick to judge, as they never know when they might be faced with a similar loss or hardship, or standing in the same place.
"Thank God for the experience that you had ... students, don't let that experience go down in vain," he said. "Get what Kirklan now has."