Parents' Easter vigil includes remembering son killed in 2011

Joel and Cheryl Seay honor their son Jarell, killed on Easter 2011, through a foundation that works to strengthen families.
Joel and Cheryl Seay honor their son Jarell, killed on Easter 2011, through a foundation that works to strengthen families. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 22, 2014

PHILADELPHIA For Joel and Cheryl Seay, the conviction of their son's killer in March after two terrible, trying trials brought a welcome sense of closure, but it could do little to ease their grief or lessen their desire to do good in their son's name.

On Easter Sunday three years ago, the Seay family had just finished their holiday dinner when two young men they had never seen before rang their West Philadelphia doorbell. The men were in a gang, police said. They asked to see the Seays' youngest son, Jarell.

Jarell Seay, a popular 18-year-old senior at Wyncote Academy in Montgomery County known for his standout play on the basketball team and his sense of humor off the court, was not part of any street crew, police said. But some childhood friends were rivals of the men who came to his door seeking revenge for a shooting that Jarell Seay had nothing to do with, police said.

Joel Seay was standing shoulder to shoulder with Jarell in the awful instant when one of the men pulled a handgun and fired. Struck in the chest, Jarell Seay died in the arms of his father, who had called Jarell "my champ."

Cheryl Seay recalls some of the jurors falling asleep at the 2013 trial of Julian Frisby, 23, who prosecutors said pulled the trigger.

"It almost felt like the jurors were like, 'Oh, well, it's another black child shooting another black child - it happens all the time," said Cheryl Seay, who worked as an office administrator at the University of Pennsylvania for 26 years.

That first trial ended in a hung jury.

Joel Seay told his tragic story again at the retrial last month. The defense attorney contended police had confused Frisby with his accomplice; each man had a tattoo of flames on his neck.

"I see that face in my dreams every night," Joel Seay testified of Frisby.

The second jury decided quickly. Frisby was sentenced to life.

By that time, the Seays had moved from West Philadelphia to outside the city. Their old home no longer felt like home. As the 55th Street block captains, Joel and Cheryl Seay had organized summer block parties and holiday toy drives, and the Seay house, filled with the warmth of Joel's booming laughter and Cheryl's soft smile and nightly sit-down dinners, had become a second home for many children in the neighborhood who called Joel "Uncle Joe."

When the Seays took Jarell and his brother, Joel, to Wildwood, they took their children's friends, too. "Most of the kids don't get that family experience," Joel Seay said.

But after Jarell was shot, the Seays felt abandoned by some in the neighborhood. It was warm on that Easter afternoon, and the street was crowded, but many told police and the Seays that they didn't see anything - that they didn't know anything.

Though they moved, the Seays did not abandon the neighborhood, did not give in to their pain and anger. Instead, they went to work.

"We got busy," Joel Seay said.

Whenever Cheryl Seay would see a story of another young person killed, she would run to visit the mother, attend the vigils. Her husband spoke at schools and community antiviolence events.

The Seays soon formed the Jarell Christopher Seay Love and Laughter Foundation ( www.jarellcseaylalf.org). They work to strengthen the community and to prevent tragedy by strengthening families - by replicating the love they provided for their own children. Last summer, they hosted a family weekend in Wildwood. About 90 families came, they said.

This summer, they will host a two-month summer camp for about 50 grade schoolers at the Sweet Union Baptist Church, where they will mix field trips and family activities with antiviolence and safety workshops. Their goal is to one day open a school: the Jarell Christopher Seay School of Technology and Trade.

To mark the third anniversary of Jarell Seay's death, they will hold a peace rally Thursday on 55th Street to honor victims of violence. Children will speak. So will mothers.

For so long after Jarell was killed, his mother couldn't bring herself to cook. On Sunday, the Seays had a small meal, which they began with a prayer. They thanked God for giving them Jarell. And, as in every prayer, they told "Rel" they loved him.


mnewall@phillynews.com

215-854-2759

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