FOREST HILL — The tears were flowing at a candlelight vigil Tuesday night, but a remarkably strong 17-year-old boy asked the congregation of Greater Sweethome Missionary Baptist Church to smile instead of cry... because it's what his father would want.
Danny Kirk Jr. spoke with wisdom and poise that belied his youth.
"I know we are broken-hearted; I know we are a little sad; but I want you to put a smile on your face," he said. "If my Daddy was here, he'd be smiling next to me."
"Daddy, I am not gonna bring shame to your name," Danny added. "You named me Danny Kirk Jr. for a reason," he said to a fired-up crowd of hundreds on the steps of the church where his father was been beaten to death just one day earlier.
Police said 33-year-old Derrick Birdow Sr. crashed his car into the church, then beat the elder Kirk and the church's janitor using an electric guitar he found inside the church's music room.
Kirk died from his injuries.
Birdow was Tased by police, then died later at a hospital.
Like Pastor Kirk, Birdow had one son who bears his name. Derrick Birdow Jr., 14, wept as he recalled the final conversation he had with his father on Sunday night.
"He was telling me he loved me, to not ever get out on the streets, to go to high school, to graduate, to do better," Derrick said.
The young man's mother, Toya Smiley, said his father had not been acting like himself the past few weeks. She described almost a paranoid state.
"My heart goes out to Pastor Kirk and his family. We are hurting, too. And I just know my baby's daddy would never do something like that," Smiley said, comforting her sobbing son. "I just wish we'd get some answers. That is not his character at all."
At Tuesday's vigil, no one mentioned Birdow's name. They simply prayed for strength and peace.
"You are still here in my back pocket," Danny Kirk Jr. said. "If I need you, Daddy, I can remember going down this street you telling me how to live my life. So, Daddy, I am not gonna do you wrong."