CHAMPAIGN — Hundreds of black and white balloons soared into a clear, blue sky around 7:15 p.m. Thursday.
They briefly hovered over the University of Illinois’ Gregory Drive basketball courts, on which Bailey Dee used to play, before sailing southwest and out of sight.
“A lot of good times. Spent a lot of time out here,” said Wes Dee, one of Bailey’s brothers. “We have a lot of love out here.”
That love came from more than 100 assembled family members and friends of his brother, who died Saturday in Atlanta.
The 20-year-old was the victim of a suspected drive-by shooting for which no motive currently is known. It also left two unidentified men hospitalized.
“It still feels so unreal,” Wes Dee said.
Mr. Dee formerly was a student and basketball player at Champaign Central High School and Danville Area Community College.
Several young men and women who connected with him through those avenues embraced and shed tears while listening to multiple speakers address Mr. Dee’s life and the ongoing threat of gun violence across the nation.
“When will it stop? We can’t have an eye for an eye. That doesn’t work because there’s too many eyes out here, so at some point we’ve got to put the guns down,” said his aunt Patricia Avery, a former president of the NAACP of Champaign County. “We’re not here for that. We’re here to honor and remember Bailey. But Bailey died, and I believe unnecessarily. He’s too young. He had a whole life ahead of him.”
Avery said she’ll remember Mr. Dee possessing a tight bond with his three brothers, all of whom were present at Thursday’s gathering.
“I’ve known these boys, all of the boys, since they were little, and the thing that I remember most about them is how they were always together,” Avery said. “They were so close. Even playing ball, they were competitive, but they were close.”
Albert Lee, Mr. Dee’s grandfather and a pastor, addressed gun violence by invoking the Bible: “Jesus said if you live by it, you’ll die by it.
“We live and want to live by guns, but we’re dying by the guns,” Lee said. “What can you say? (Dee) was just going along every day, and then these things happen.”
Kevin Cobb, a close friend of the Dee family, said Mr. Dee “wasn’t no gun dude” but also recognized that doesn’t necessarily matter in the current climate.
“If you feel like you’ve got to carry a gun, something’s wrong, man,” Cobb said. “I just ask everybody to be smart. We don’t want to do this again. We don’t want to release no more balloons.”
When the balloons were released after a count of three, several shouts of “We love you, Bailey!” filled the air as well.
“If you want to do anything for Bailey, you make sure if you know someone who is playing with these guns … please tell them there’s a better way,” Avery said. “Please, somebody’s got to be the voice of reason and say that it’s not the way. Put the guns down.”