Several hundred people gathered Thursday at Martinsville High School to celebrate the memory of Kerion Jykeem Witcher.
Witcher, 18, of Martinsville, died July 4 in an accidental drowning at Fairy Stone State Park. He was the son of Yolander Witcher of Martinsville and Kerry Hodnett of Danville.
Friends and family members who spoke at the funeral remembered Witcher as a natural born leader and athlete with a passion for helping others.
Witcher’s cousin, Kenneth “K.J.” Lewis Jr., said that from the time they both were small children, they shared a love of playing sports, going fishing, and — a bit later on — girls.
“I loved him,” Lewis said. “He was like a brother to me. And I know his spirit will live on in my heart. There’s no need to be crying, because I know he’s still here with me. I know deep down in my heart I want to cry, but I’m not, because I know I’ll see him again.”
Witcher, Lewis said, gave him the greatest piece of advice he’s ever received: “He told me to never give up, and go through whatever you’re going through with your head held high.”
Witcher’s friend, Sgt. 1st Class Damien Wainwright, remembered Witcher as a team player, both on and off the field, and a young man wise beyond his years.
“I look at Kerion as a man,” Wainwright said. “He was truly a man himself at 18 years old.”
In addition to being a three-sport athlete at Martinsville High School, where Kerion graduated in the spring, he was a passionate fisherman, Wainwright said.
He added that Witcher was not only a fisherman, but a fisher of men.
Witcher’s friend Jesse Saunders offered a speech as humorous as it was touching. Saunders said Witcher frequently tried to get him involved in the many athletic activities Witcher was interested in, such as wrestling and fishing.
Saunders confessed that he didn’t possess Witcher’s same skills or athleticism, and the lessons often had mixed results. On one fishing trip, for example, Saunders said he accidentally cast his lure into Witcher’s face.
“I knew him all my life,” Saunders said. “He was a good friend. I might not have known something, but he taught me.”
Saunders read a poem about best friends, choking up a bit at a line about how best friends “understand who you are and what you say.”
“Even if he’s gone,” Saunders concluded, “he will not be forgotten.”
Other speakers at the event included Hodnett, Witcher’s grandmother Pastor Prenceanna Craft, Bishop John A. Campbell Jr. and the Rev. Veronica Wright, among other friends and family members.
Witcher had enlisted in the Army and was scheduled to enter the service in September. Two Army representatives spoke, and one of Witcher’s friends, a member of the Air Force, presented Yolanda Witcher with an American flag.
The choir of Watson Level Missionary Baptist Church in Chatham provided music.