CHICAGO — Faculty of Wells Community Academy High School say their students are not just students. They say they're family.
So when the mother of slain alumnus Octavius Dontrell Lamb told the school the family did not have enough money for a funeral, Wells principal Ernesto Matias said he would not accept that.
"I just cannot imagine someone like Octavius being put in a pauper's grave," Matias said. "I refuse. I'm not going to do that."
Lamb, 20, graduated from Wells last spring and became the first murder victim of 2013. He was shot and killed about 3:50 a.m. New Years Day. He is the fourth student or alumni from Wells High School to die this school year, but he is the first who would have received an "indigent burial."
When a family cannot be found or cannot afford burial services, Cook County handles the cost, but the county does not provide a headstone or marker of any kind. In those cases, the county does provide a religious service, but 10 to 24 people are typically buried per service, a county spokeswoman said.
Matias said he was told a private service and burial would cost about $5,000, so he notified Wells' faculty.
He said the response was quick. Some teachers asked for donations online. Outside organizations like Mikva Challenge, in which Lamb was involved, donated, and Matias said another school, Buffalo Grove High School, also donated money.
He said the faculty was able to raise over $6,000 for the service in about a week.
The funeral was held Friday night on the city's West Side. More than 120 people came to pay their respects.
Lamb's mother, Kennetha Lamb, told the crowd she was grateful for the prayers and the donations her son had received.
She described her son as "the man of the house" who would help her take care of his five brothers and seven sisters.
“Octavius had a saying," Lamb said. "He would always say, ‘Mom, I’m the man,' and he was the man."
Others at the funeral remembered "Oc" as a good friend who loved to laugh and loved to eat.
At Wells, Lamb was a member of student goverment and a member of JROTC, an organization his mom said taught him to be a man.
Lamb's JROTC instructor, Major Kenneth Woods, described Lamb as "a natural leader."
Woods said Lamb was voted king of the JROTC's "military ball" last year. He said the guest speaker at the ball was a World War II veteran who brought his 80-year-old wife. Woods said Lamb wasted no time bringing the veteran's wife out to the dance floor.
"It was hilarious," Woods said.
It was a memory Matias also shared about Lamb.
Matias said Lamb had a "ready smile" and was a good student, so good that the school's disciplinary clerk did not even know who he was when news of his death hit the school.
But Matias said even though Lamb was a good kid, the Wells faculty would have reacted the same for any student.
"They’re our kids," Matias said. "We educate them, we spend time with them. Sometimes we cry with them, whatever, and we have to do right by our kids. That’s the simple story."