DECATUR - Hanging with the wrong crowd and dropping out of MacArthur High School got Devin Kirk in trouble, but he had earned a GED, was applying for jobs and set to start college classes.
The teenager's efforts to turn his life around ended Saturday, according to Decatur police, after he was caught in the crossfire between two rival squads.
Kirk, 18, was remembered at his funeral Friday by a vast number of relatives and friends, as well as staff members of CeaseFire Decatur, hurting from their powerlessness to save such a promising life.
The Rev. James Hodges, program manager for CeaseFire, turned Kirk's eulogy into a wake-up call.
"God has you right here today, young squad member, young gang member, young pimp, young hustler, whoever you are, because you have been ordained to hear this," Hodges said at Graceland/
Fairlawn Funeral Home.
"God has a plan and a purpose for your life ... but (you must) get rid of anybody you hang around with who ain't doing nothing for their lives ... and put your guns down."
Police say Kirk had no definite tie to any squad, including the alleged Brick Squad members he was with when he was wounded, nor the alleged Ratchet City Squad members who fired the shots.
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"He was friends with all of them," his mother, Dana Woods, said in an interview Thursday. "It didn't matter to him what clique people were in."
Officers found Kirk, wounded in his neck, upper back and buttocks, in an alley between the 900 blocks of West King and View streets about 1:40 p.m. Saturday. He died at 4:38 p.m. in Decatur Memorial Hospital.
Hodges, who has led the local CeaseFire since it was organized in 2006 to stop gun violence, doesn't remember any other client being killed before. CeaseFire's outreach workers mentor young males at risk of committing a violent act or becoming a victim of one.
"This loss really hurts," Hodges said. "Today's youth have a tendency to believe they have all the answers, and it's hard to overcome that mind-set."
Woods and her husband, John, have nothing but praise for Jamie Taylor, the outreach worker who helped their son enroll at Richland Community College and look for work.
"Jamie was like an older brother to Devin," John Woods said. "Those guys loved each other."
Taylor said Kirk had planned to apply at Caterpillar Inc. this week and dreamed of one day opening his own business.
"Devin had goals and was very driven," Taylor said. "He was his own man and carried himself very, very well."
John and Dana Woods were among many mourners at Friday's service wearing specially made T-shirts remembering Kirk, theirs reading, "Born a Kirk, raised a Woods." They listed his name as Devin Dwayne Kirk-Woods in his obituary.
Hodges was not the only speaker reaching out to younger people.
Kym Copeland said she wanted them to understand that some mistakes can't be taken back. "It might be another baby next time, and if we can do something, we need to start doing it," she said.
Elnora Taylor, who introduced herself as Kirk's aunt, said he told her in February he was interested in God.
"We need to come together without all this anger and hate perpetrated on each other," Taylor said. "We need to start loving one another the way Devin loved everybody."
Kirk's 14-year-old brother, Christian Kirk, also came to the microphone.
"He's the best brother I ever had," Christian said. "He was funny and also showed me that gangs are bad and get you a lot of trouble.
"Devin, I love you, I miss you, I'm going to get my education and graduate from high school."
The applause for this was among the longest and loudest during the service.