With so much pain in the world right now — from Statesboro to Ferguson, Missouri, and all the way into Iraq and Syria — community leaders and friends and family members of a Statesboro man who was gunned down last week came together to pray.
More than 40 people in all gathered inside the sweltering sanctuary of Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Peachtree Street. They mourned with the family and friends of Eric Alexander Reese, the 46-year-old man whose life was cut short by gunfire at his apartment complex, Park Place Apartments on Lanier Drive, at about 8:30 p.m. Aug. 15.
“We come because there are things going on in our community that we need help with. We come because we have nowhere else to go but to come to God,” said the Rev. Deborah Lanier, pastor of Greater Bethel AME. “So we thank you this evening for coming out to be a support for the family as they strive to press forward, as they go through this trial. This is part of the journey that’s laid before them, as we all have to ask God to strengthen us each and every day, because there is nothing that we can do without him but to fail.”
They lamented the shortcomings of so many, including themselves, that they said have led to conditions that have allowed so many African-American men to die from violence, in Statesboro and across the nation.
“There are a lot of failings going on because our families have separated ourselves from the one who brings unity, and that is God himself,” Lanier said. “We come because on Sunday morning, when we should be in church, we’re doing other things. We come because we don’t take time to sit at the breakfast table or the dinner table with our children and share the good news of Jesus with them.”
They called on each other to rise up, support young people and give them the proper moral and spiritual foundation so that more people might avoid a similar fate.
“I find something fundamentally wrong when a church can only get together on Sunday, and they can’t be seen in the community Monday through Saturday,” former mayoral candidate and longtime community servant Jonathan McCollar said. “The change has got to come from the church. … We have to get our churches to dedicate a portion of their tithes to save our children. If you’re not willing to invest into them, then who is?”
They offered prayers for those who are hurting — for the family of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager who was shot to death by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as for peace to come to that community, which has been torn by violence since Aug. 9. They remembered the family of James Foley, the freelance journalist who was taken captive by Islamic State militants in Syria in 2012 and whose grisly beheading was shown in a video released this week on the Internet.
They prayed for the Bulloch County Schools and their leadership — represented at the prayer service by Superintendent Charles Wilson and board members Steve Hein and Vernon Littles, as well as board member-elect Glennera Martin, who organized the vigil. Statesboro police Maj. Scott Brunson was also there.
They shared memories of the man whose life ended too soon. Amanda Marshall, a niece of Eric Reese’s wife, Samantha T. Reese, said she could count on her uncle to be there when she needed him.
“I can remember one time when I was sick and all I could think about was, ‘I need my Big Dog. I need my Big Dog. I need my Big Dog,’” Marshall said. “And every time I said, ‘I need my Big Dog,’ he was there, every time. And I’m just going to miss him.”
Afterward, they were escorted by a Statesboro police vehicle to Park Place Apartments, where neighbors watched as the group held a candlelight vigil. After singing some hymns and offering more prayers, one by one, attendees laid down their candles on the spot where Eric Reese was killed.
Before the vigil, Samantha Reese spoke of her husband, who she called the “love of my life.” She said they had been together for 25 years and had three children together. She said Eric, an Emanuel County native and Swainsboro High School graduate, was the oldest of 12 children — an experience that was key in helping him become a good father to his daughters.
Samantha described the last moments of her husband’s life. He went behind his apartment to meet his daughter Myiesha, who was waiting on a couple of friends. When they didn’t show, he told her to go back to the apartment, and he would meet the friends.
“She walked to the house, and that’s when she said she heard the gunshots,” Samantha said. “She heard a group of girls screaming. She turned around to go back. Then she saw her dad lying on the ground. He had been shot.”
Samantha said Eric was a hard worker and had been a brick mason for all of his adult life.
“He was a good, hardworking man,” she said. “He took care of his family, all the kids, the grandkids. He was a good, loving man.
“He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.