Mourners paid their respects to the Hudson family on Sunday at the Pleasant Gift Missionary Baptist Church, more than a week after Jennifer Hudson's mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew were found murdered in a still-unsolved crime. A private service attended by 100 people was followed by a parade of thousands of mourners, who filed into the small hall to write condolence notes on cards with the images of nephew Julian King, mother Darnell Donerson and brother Jason Hudson, according to the Chicago Tribune.
At one point, King's second-grade teacher, Carmen Williams, took the stage with three of her students to relate how King had recently begun telling knock-knock jokes, and how a classmate had shared one of those jokes with the other students in room 312 last week as they awaited word on whether their friend would be found safely following the murders of his grandmother and uncle in their South Side home. Williams and her students described King — who was close to his famous aunt — as "cheerful, a good listener, a friend," and spoke of his fondness for Spider-Man and the Power Rangers. Another student said they were sad that King "did not get to be president of the United States," while Williams recalled that when he raised his hand in class, he always had an enthusiastic look in his eye and he "always, always had the right answer."
The Reverend Krista Alston told the mourners that the service was a celebration of the three lives lost and urged the attendees at the private service not to dwell on the tragedy, according to the paper. "We came this afternoon to give a prayer of thanks for the lives of Darnell, Jason and Julian," Alston said. The Hudson family did not attend the service.
A cousin described family matriarch Donerson as a "joyous woman" who grew up on Chicago's gritty South Side loving "God and the Supremes." Shari Sweat said, "She taught me how to shake a tail feather. ... She had a soft voice, but you should not let that fool you. She was a great debater." Sweat also said that Donerson had voted early in the presidential election and that she would want everyone to get out and vote on Election Day.
The Tribune also reported that the Reverend Quentin Washington recalled being in the children's choir at the church with his cousin Jason Hudson. "We had fun at church," he said, calling his cousin "dependable, ... trustworthy ... and an encourager" in times of need. Following the private service, each attendee lined up outside the church and received a prayer book with a card containing the pictures of the three family members that urged them to "share your love" by writing down thoughts.
Then, during the public memorial, a flood of mourners walked through the small sanctuary past large pictures of the deceased, including one in which Donerson is leaning on her right arm as a smiling King peeks over her shoulder.
On Friday, police confirmed that the weapon found in a vacant lot near the spot where King's body was discovered was the gun used in the murders. No one has been charged in the case yet, but William Balfour, the estranged husband of Julia Hudson, King's mother, has been in custody on a parole violation and as a "person of interest" in the murders. A private funeral for the three victims is scheduled for Monday (November 3) at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago.
One of Jennifer Hudson's cousins, Demitrias Jackson, attended the community memorial and told E! News that Hudson is "very strong and she's holding the family together." Jackson added that Hudson will temporarily put her career on the back burner in order to be with her family and mourn. "She is going to take a break from acting," Jackson said. "She'll be taking time for herself and to be with her family."
The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the newly formed Hudson-King Domestic Violence Protection Fund.