EAST HARLEM — Dozens of neighbors and friends filed slowly into the First Spanish Baptist Church Thursday afternoon for the wake of Joel Morales, the East Harlem boy who hanged himself on May 29.
Faces lined with grief turned away from the altar where a small casket sat, just over a week after the young boy laid out for the viewing took his own life. Joel committed suicide in his family's apartment rather than face the torment of the daily bullying he suffered at school, relatives have said.
His death brought the problem and pain of bullying into focus for many in the neighborhood, and even strangers came to show Joel's family support at the 3 p.m. wake at the 216 E. 116th St. church. The funeral service, which was scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, was also at the church. Afterward, the community planned an 11 p.m. candlelight vigil and a walk around the block in Joel's honor.
Lizbeth Babilonia, Joel's mother, walked around the church greeting mourners Thursday afternoon. Other family members, including his sister Richeliss Salazar, 23, and brother, Richard Salazar, 25, sat in the front pew, accepting long hugs and pecks on the cheek from well wishers. They both wore pictures of Joel on a chain around their necks.
It took his family more than a week to find the funds for a funeral, but donations from sympathetic New Yorkers trickled in to help them pay for his burial following news reports.
In his coffin on Thursday, Joel was dressed in a crisp white suit, with a photo, in which he was smiling, poking out of his left breast pocket. Around his neck was a large gold crucifix, and in his folded hands rested a silver rosary and a Blow Pop. Next to his head, someone had placed a neck tie with the Looney Tunes characters printed on it.
The Rev. Pedro Prado Ocegueda, who said he would be speaking at the service, said he would be addressing the meaning of the name "Joel" in the Bible, and what he believes God is trying to tell the community, and the city, with the little boy's death.
A representative for the Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito confirmed that she would be attending the funeral service and be speaking later at the vigil.