A heart-broken community gathered Friday to say goodbye to Oscar Patrice Duncan – a youth pastor, talented singer and dancer, role model, and "soldier of Christ" – who was killed June 4 in Venice in an allegedly gang-related shooting.
Duncan, a Venice native and 2006 graduate of Venice High School, was just 23 years old.
The three-hour funeral service at the First Baptist Church in the Oakwood section of Venice was attended by around 1,000 people, who packed an overflow room, filled chairs on the lawn, and gathered on the sidewalk to pay respects to the young man who touched so many. The arrangements were befitting a full-fledged sitting pastor. Duncan was serving as Youth Minister at Greater Zion Church Family in Compton at the time of his death.
The service began with a procession led by his family and included Scripture readings, a worship and praise dance, and vocal performances. Baptist pastors and ministers from throughout Los Angeles attended. Many of the pastors spoke inspiringly of God and Duncan with frequent interjections of "Amen" and "Hallelujah" punctuating their sermons. Friends and family concluded the service with personal remarks and stories about Duncan.
"This is the result when you live as a child of God," said pastor and service officiant Elder Allen, motioning to the crowded room.
Duncan served as president of Young Urban Leaders and dance instructor for the performing arts organization Positive Images of Self Expression. He also founded the J.O.E. ("Jesus Over Everything") movement, which guides young people to worship Jesus Christ. A t-shirt for the organization hung over his white casket adorned with flowers. Nearby, a row of photos commemorated his life. In one photo, Duncan poses in his uniform as captain of the Venice High School football team.
"When Oscar entered a room, he lit it up. Today, he's lighting up all of Venice - all of Venice is here," said his Venice High School football coach, Angelo Gasca.
"Oscar was heart personified, and he showed it to us, everyday," Gasca said. "Every day after practice he'd say, 'I love you coach,' and then he would tell all of his teammates the same thing. ... Our kids need to hear that more often," he said.
Duncan was remembered at the church across from the Oakwood Recreation Center park where he played youth basketball and baseball and football for the Venice Bulldogs.
Duncan became a member of the Boys & Girls Club of Venice at age 6 and in 2006 was given the club's highest individual honor when he was named "Youth of the Year." Duncan went on to work for the club as a youth counselor and was hired to work in the teen services department where he ran the audio engineering program and music studio.
"Every young person that he touched… he left a special imprint on all of them," said Erikk Aldridge, the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Venice.
Midway through his speech, Aldridge unbuttoned his shirt to reveal a Superman shirt, in memory of Duncan, who sometimes wore a Superman costume to church events. "He was Superman for everybody," he said.
During the testimonials, Duncan's friends also affectionately referred to him as "ChoirBoy," a stage name for his dancing and gospel-inspired hip-hop singing.
He first cultivated his love of singing as a member of the choir of Paradise Baptist Church in Los Angeles. He later joined the Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood and became a licensed minister in 2010 while serving for a ministry in Compton.
During the service, many family and friends referred to him as a soldier of Jesus Christ. "But he was not only a soldier, he was a general," said friend Antwon Williams.
Lanee Burns, one of Duncan's cousins, read an essay that a 13-year-old Duncan wrote for a high school English class. He titled the essay "Fate."
"Sometimes I wonder how my life is going to turn out. What is my fate, I want to know if my fate is to die young or old. .... No matter what, people don't know their fate and I am one of those people," Duncan wrote.
The essay was dated June 4, 2002, exactly 10 years to the date of his death.
"Oscar's fate," Burns said, "was to bring us all together."
Duncan was shot and killed June 4 about 10:30 p.m. in the 600 block of Santa Clara Avenue in a suspected gang-related shooting.
A suspected gang member, Kevin Dwayne Green, has been arrested and charged with murder with use of a gun and street gang allegations. He is being held on $2 million bail. A second suspect also was taken into custody, but no charges have been filed. Police said they were seeking four men seen in a white car the night of the shooting. The case remains under investigation.