By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Brett Koshkin
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Riverfront Times
By Danny Wicentowski
By Pete Kotz
Silverman concedes that Lester Wells' death was not a typical scenario. However, he points out, suicide is third leading cause of death for black males fifteen to nineteen years old, and hanging is a common method for adolescents who don't have access to a gun.
Silverman is not surprised by all the back-fence gossip swirling around Lester Wells' death. "People always try to find rationales for anything that happens, whether it makes sense or not. But sadly, a high number of adolescent suicides are not explainable to the extent we could sit down and say the reasons are X, Y and Z. We don't always have information. We don't always know what triggered the final decision."
Of the more than 50 readers who commented online after RFT's initial post concerning Lester Wells, only one signed her real, full name: LaJuan Berry, a sixteen-year-old honors student at Cahokia High School.
"Kill all the whites REALLY?!?!" she wrote on Sunday, May 2. "That is some crap. Because some of my CLOSEST friends are CAUCASIAN!! And I'll be damned if they come up dead."
She felt compelled to post again several minutes later. "How would Dr. King feel if he was here to witness this extreme ignorance?? Or what about Rosa Parks, all these PROUD AFRICAN AMERICAN PEOPLE fought so we could be treated equally and yall dumb asses ACT like yall wanna be treated like niggers...HAVE SOME SELF RESPECT!!!"
The very fact she felt obligated to weigh in as the voice of reason makes her angry, she explains. "That shouldn't be coming from a child; that should be coming from an adult," she says. "I think the adults are putting gas on the fire."
At school, some of her fellow students have linked Lester Wells to nineteen-year-old Blake Munie. On April 7, Munie was shot at close range while sitting inside his vehicle. He managed to drive two blocks before crashing into a utility pole in front of his parents' house.
Two days later, Craig Nichols, a black teen, was arrested for the crime. The buzz around town was that Wells was randomly targeted by whites looking to avenge Munie's death.
The Munies, like the Teagues, held a candlelight vigil for their son and erected memorials in their front yards, complete with white crosses.
LaJuan Berry says racial tensions have grown more visible in Cahokia. She remembers, for example, going to Wal-Mart recently and holding the door for a white couple followed by a black couple.
"The black couple said, 'This ain't the '60s; you ain't got to hold the door open for them. They can hold the door open for themselves.' And I was like, 'It's just common courtesy. It's just something you do out of respect for people.'"
On May 21, Lester Wells Jr. was given an open-casket funeral at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in East St. Louis. He lay in a white suit and striped tie, surrounded by bouquets of soft blue flowers.
The church was crowded with well-wishers and family, many wearing shirts that bore Wells' photo and the letters RIP.
When Crystal Moore first approached the casket, she let out a series of loud, sudden gasps. Family members pooled around her as she sobbed, fanning her neck.
The broad-shouldered Omarr Teague was the first one of them to take the podium and speak. Sporting cornrows and a short-sleeved polo, he talked fondly of Lester, remembering how he helped him write some rap lyrics. He wants to be a role model for his stepsons.
"Even though I'm not their biological father, I still love them like they're mine," he said to applause, fighting to steady his voice. "I can't even go into his room anymore. That was my guy. No matter what nobody heard, that was my little man."
Toward the end of the service, Bishop Henry Phillips told mourners, "Cahokia needs to come together. Out of this tragedy has brought unity among the churches. This is not the time to point fingers. I want to say this to all of you that live in the community: Cahokia is going to make it."
Last week chief deputy Danny Haskenhoff of the St. Clair County Coroner's office informed RFT that the toxicology tests run on Lester Wells Jr. came back negative for the presence of drugs or alcohol.
The autopsy report, Haskenhoff said, showed Wells "died from hanging himself."