Michael Shean Ensley was supposed to go on a long country drive with his father Saturday, to celebrate getting his driver's license and his upcoming high school graduation.
Instead, he was laid to rest in a crypt in Inglewood, five days after he was fatally shot in a hallway at Reseda High School.
More than 1,000 friends and family members gathered to grieve at the Figueroa Church of Christ on West 57th Street, where Ensley was baptized 17 years ago.
They came to mourn a youth they described as conscientious and sensitive, a doting son who attended a San Fernando Valley school to escape the very same urban violence that would claim his life.
Young girls sniffled, and teen-age boys rocked back and forth in their pews in silent rage and sorrow, as one speaker after another rose to the pulpit directly above Ensley's smiling senior class photo.
Some railed against modern society and violence. Others softly said goodby to the boy they loved.
"Today, I feel robbed," one of Ensley's best friends, Kelly Gilmore, 16, told the congregation. "My friend's mother can't have her son back. And I can't have my friend back. I feel robbed because Michael didn't have the chance to cultivate his talent. His chances for the future were snatched."
Always mindful to avoid the ever present gangs that surrounded his Athens Heights neighborhood and the two Valley high schools he attended, Ensley planned to attend Harbor College in the fall and become an aeronautical mechanic. He hoped to earn enough money to raise a family.
Police have arrested and charged Robert Heard, 15, of Panorama City with his slaying. They say Ensley and Heard were arguing about their rival graffiti tagging crews when Heard shot Ensley once in the chest during a mid-morning snack break.
But on this sunny and balmy Saturday, Ensley's friends and family had a message for the police and his killer; Michael Ensley was just a kid trying desperately to avoid the gangs, taggers and other bad elements that have infiltrated high school classrooms.
"Don't use code words to describe Michael; Michael was a young man who was raised right," the Rev. Lawrence Murray said, looking at Margaret Ensley as the grieving mother quietly cried in the front row. "Michael was not a monster. He was not a gangster. He was just an African-American male trying to make it in this world. And what is wrong with that?
"Mothers aren't supposed to bury their sons," Murray continued. "Children are supposed to bury their parents. But we have perverted the very nature of this, and that has got to stop."
The ceremony was a long one, somber and quiet. But when a quartet rose to sing a lilting hymn as its way of saying goodby to the amiable football player, the students put their heads on each other's shoulders and loudly released their sobs, weeping openly for a classmate who they said never had a chance.
Like other speakers, Gilmore said Ensley would never have argued with the alleged gunman over graffiti tagging crews because he would never associate with such troublemakers. Gilmore said Ensley was shot simply because teen-age tagging crew members dared the gunman to do it, to prove his loyalty.
"It was obviously peer pressure and the need to be accepted that drove this youngster to murder my friend," said Gilmore. "This kid valued his crew and his buddies' perception of him over his own future and my friend's life. And that is a twisted way of thinking."
Ensley was buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery. His father, Arnold, watched the brief service quietly, and remarked about how his son would be getting an honorary diploma from Reseda High. A scholarship would be set up in his name.
"We were going to Baker this weekend, to visit my brother," he sighed. "And instead, we are here."