Students, teachers and parents braved below freezing temperatures Thursday night to pay tribute to slain Newton High School student T.J. Dorsey who was killed Sunday morning.
At a candlelight vigil planned by the senior class, roughly 100 people gathered outside of NHS to listen to speakers, sing and pray together, many crying, all of them huddled together as much for warmth as to share comfort with one another.
Dorsey’s parents were in attendance and his father, Terry J. Dorsey Sr., spoke to the students, encouraging them to put down the guns and to think about the consequences their actions could bring.
"He [T.J.] touched us all," Dorsey said. "And we forgive the person who did this to him. And if we can forgive him ya’ll can also forgive."
Though he urged the students to forgive the 16-year-old who has been charged with involuntary manslaughter after the 9 mm gun he was reportedly handling went off in a car and struck T.J. in the back, he told them to leave the guns alone.
"To the ones carrying guns," he continued, "put them down or your either going to jail or to Hell," he cautioned. "On TV, when someone gets shot they get back up… All that gangster stuff – it’s all play play. Carrying a gun does not make you a man. It makes you a punk because you have to hide behind a bullet. Playing with guns and being in gangs – that’s a punk game."
Dorsey told the students that if they felt like talking or needed someone to share their grief with, then they should come to him or T.J.’s mother Danyette.
"If one person could share his love and affect all these people, imagine what would happen if all of you did the same thing," he said. "Everything you see on TV is not real. Look around you – this is real."
Between the service and donations given throughout the week in school, NHS students raised more than $700 to donate to the Dorsey family to help with funeral expenses. According to Chris Miller, 17, one of the organizers of the event, the students have all gone above and beyond to memorialize T.J. The vigil, he said, was a way to allow many students who will be unable to attend the funeral service, a chance to mourn their friend.
NHS principal Dr. Roderick Sams addressed the assembled crowd telling them to look around at each other to see the true spirit of NHS.
"Look around at this crowd," he said. "Look and you will see the true spirit of Newton High School. Every single one of us will have a defining moment in our lives and for many of us that moment is now."
He encouraged the students to remember T.J. by becoming an example to others the way that the popular 17-year-old was to many in the community.
"If you really want to remember and honor and show how much you loved T.J., then be an example. That’s the way to honor him because that’s what he did for others. I might be the principal, but I was blessed to have known T.J."
Funeral services for T.J. Dorsey will be held at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at his church, the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, which is located at 4650 Flat Shoals Road in Decatur.