The Easter service at Bartley Temple Methodist Church was a little different this year.
The chorus boomed with hymns. Dancers in white robes performed.
But the tiny church in East Gainesville also opened its doors Sunday to young parishioners, wearing shirts donned with the message: “R.I.P. Robert Dentmond.”
The hallway displayed a photo collage of the 16-year-old who was killed March 20 in a standoff with police. The collage showed memories of football games. One photo showed him smiling at the camera, balancing six starfish on his arm at the beach.
A nearby bake sale table in honor of Dentmond was decorated with an assortment of cakes, cookies, brownies and pie.
Ajalan Carter, 14, organized the bake sale; she, her mom, and other church members made the desserts.
“This is what we should be doing on Easter Sunday,” Pastor Mary Mitchell said to the congregation.
“Pray for these young people,” she said, looking at Dentmond’s friends, who stood in front of the congregation. “Because I’m looking in their faces, and I see their hurt.”
Dentmond was killed by deputies and police last Sunday at Majestic Oaks Apartments in Gainesville. At about 10:07 p.m., he called police threatening to shoot himself. He was armed with a replica of an AR-15 assault rifle. After he failed to follow their orders, officers and deputies fired shots.
Carter was devastated when she heard the news.
He was her best friend.
As a member of the church, Carter came to Pastor Mitchell looking to do something to help Dentmond’s mother. On Sunday, she told his story.
“Over the years I’ve been with him, we have prayed together and I remember just smiling happiness,” she said.
“Even when I was down, he would always talk to me and bring me up in spirits.”
Carter said she wishes she could have been there while he was going through those final moments.
She recalled last Sunday night – a night she couldn’t sleep. She rolled around, she said. She sensed something wrong.
A couple hours later, her sister was in her room.
“He’s gone,” she said.
“What are you talking about?” Carter asked.
“Robert left us.”
Looking at the congregation, Carter explained, holding back tears:
“I try all I can and I just want to hear y’all’s voices so that y’all can hear mine,” she said. “That’s all I want from y’all.”
Bartley Temple will also conduct a prayer vigil for Dentmond Friday at 6:30 p.m.
Rev. Milford Griner and Pastor Mitchell will conduct the vigil.
“We just hope to bring everybody together to cope with what they’re feeling,” Griner said.
He said the church’s young dancers will perform, and there will be a candle lit in memory of Dentmond. People will gather around the candle, look at pictures of Dentmond and talk about him.
“If given the opportunity to just share a few words, it helps numb some of the grief,” he said.
Carter is happy that the community is remembering Dentmond. But, she said, “it’s also sad that it takes a death in the community to bring us all together.”
While funeral arrangements for Dentmond are confidential, Carter wants one thing for her best friend.
“I just want this to be a good home going for Robert, because that’s just what he deserves,” she said. “A good home going.”