Caleer Miller Jr. lived only 16 years and 11 months, but in that short life he made a lasting impression on many.
On Saturday morning, about 300 of his admirers packed a South Philadelphia church to celebrate Miller's life, weeping and laughing as they recalled his ever-present smile, his ability to stretch a dollar, his love of the 76ers, and his adoration for friends and family. That family includes younger twin brothers Nasir and Nasim George, who were born with autism.
"He was an amazing person. There was nobody like him who could make your day. When he wasn't at school, the day was boring," said a friend, Paris Johnson, 17, after the service.
The gathering at Love Kingdom Fellowship Church in the 1000 block of South Third Street was the second of the funerals for two teens gunned down by another at 12th and Ritner Streets the evening of Oct. 24. The killings, resulting from a feud between two groups of South Philadelphia teenagers, took place on the 2300 block of South 12th Street, in front of the home of Salvatore DiNubile, 16, a junior at St. Joseph's Preparatory School who was laid to rest last week after a Mass that drew thousands.
Brandon Olivieri, 16, of the 1600 block of South Juniper Street, turned himself in days after the shooting. He has been charged with two counts of murder and is being held without bail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Nov. 15.
Police and court documents indicate that Olivieri was friends with Miller, who lived in Point Breeze, and that he shot DiNubile during a dispute involving at least five teens. Miller was struck by a stray bullet, police believe. Both young men were shot in the chest and were pronounced dead within an hour at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who presented Miller's family with a special tribute citation from City Council, told the mourners Saturday that as an African American man he is "sick and tired of being sick and tired of going to home-going services for young men" killed by such violence.
Olivieri's name was not uttered during the service for Miller, who was a junior at Mastery Charter Thomas Campus. Nor were the circumstances that led to the gunfire cutting short his life. Instead, the clergy and others who spoke focused on how Miller had lived, and on the belief that he was now in a better place, with Jesus Christ, a faith he accepted at a young age, according to an obituary given to mourners.
Pastor John Olsen, of Grace and Peace Church, where Miller worshiped for the last seven years of his life, stressed the point in his sermon. "Caleer has gained in his death eternal life. He's entered into his eternal rest and reward through faith in Jesus Christ," he said. "We are suffering. We should suffer with his family. But don't feel bad for Caleer. He's not suffering at all in any way and he never will again. He's on the better side. He's not embarrassed about his past, he's not confused about his present, and he is not anxious about his future," he said, drawing a round of "amens."
"He's never going to be lonely again. He's never going to be sad about anything ever again. He's released," Olsen said.
Caleer Miller Sr. told the church that after his son's death, he cried, prayed, and felt "a lot of anger." But on a dreary day, he said, the sun appeared and he felt his son's presence. "And I just felt a warm spirit in my body, and my son told me, 'Dad don't cry. I'm with God.' I stopped crying and everything felt better and I said, 'Oh, son, now I know what happened. You got your wings!' He got his wings."
Among the mourners were Miller's friends and teachers from the various schools he attended. A group from Christopher Columbus Charter School, where he was a student from second through eighth grades, wore black matching memorial sweatshirts with his picture on the front and, on the back in white letters: Long Live Leer.
Beyond sharing fond memories of her friend, Johnson, who knew Miller from Christopher Columbus, said: "He did nothing wrong. He was there that night, but he did nothing wrong, and people should not be pointing fingers at Caleer. He did not deserve this. He was about peace."
Nakiyah Wallace, 17, who also met Miller at Columbus, agreed. "Two lives were taken. Two families are devastated, friends are devastated. Everybody is devastated. Nobody should be pointing fingers saying it's his fault, or saying he shouldn't have been there. At the end of the day, I'm pretty sure he didn't know what was going to happen."
Gabrielle Sheppard, 16, brought a light moment to the service, recalling how Miller knew where to buy multiple snacks for as little money as possible. After the laughter quieted, Sheppard, who met Miller in first grade at Andrew Jackson Elementary School, recalled that, about a month before his death, Miller asked him to look after his twin brothers if, God forbid, anything ever happened to him.
"Honestly, he felt like something was coming," Sheppard, a student at Philadelphia Electrical and Technology Charter High School, said after the service.
Miller, who played center, helped Columbus win a basketball championship in 2014. Family members said they had hoped he would one day earn a basketball scholarship to college. His love for the 76ers was evident by two large color posters featuring his likeness and the team's logo that flanked the open casket. Once it was closed, mourners could see that the top was adorned with family photos and the team's logo.