The emotional funeral of Christopher L. Thomas Jr. erupted in violence today as family and friends of the child's birth mother and father clashed in bitter frustration.
Christopher's foster mother, Crystal P. Keith, was charged last week with beating the 13-month-old boy to death and with torturing his 2-year-old sister. Crystal Keith is married to the brother of the child's birth father, whose name is also Christopher Thomas.
The dispute simmered throughout the service but erupted near its end, as people lined up near the open casket to pay their final respects.
Several people began to taunt Thomas, who sat at the front of the Serenity Funeral Home chapel, his eyes closed.
Who threw the first blow was unclear. Thomas was punched on the left side of his face. He was removed from the chapel and taken to a couch, the left side of his face severely swollen, a bloody gash beneath his left eye.
In the chapel, chairs were thrown aside and flower displays were knocked over. Several people grabbed the boy's casket to keep it from being flung down.
As people cried out for calm, the fight spread to the funeral home lobby and into the street. An ambulance arrived at the front of funeral home just as the casket was carried out the back and loaded into a hearse.
The hearse hurriedly pulled away toward Graceland Cemetery, followed by a small group of cars. In an area of the cemetery designated Baby Land, a quick graveside service was held at a plot donated by the county.
Most of the handful of people at the graveside appeared to be family and friends of the child's birth mother, Candace Glover.
Glover, weeping as she clutched several stuffed animals to her chest, was too distraught to leave the back seat of her car.
Family members said they did not have enough money to rent a place to gather after the funeral. They stood in the cemetery near their cars and grieved.