Eric Hayes could make a joke out of anything.
Not so long ago, his mother remembers Eric - clad in shorts, a sleeveless "beater" shirt, and slippers - teasing her. "He said, 'If I die, this is what I want to go in,' " Barbara Clowden explains. He also knew she'd never let that happen. "Not with what he had on!"
On Saturday, she buried him in a nicer outfit: a thermal shirt, Dickies, and boots.
Eric was shot in the head three times Nov. 22 while waiting to testify against a man who tried to burn down his house. At the time of his death, Eric was in Philadelphia's witness relocation program along with his mother and two brothers.
Humor was Eric's way of getting by. He'd ditch school, Clowden says, then "turn it to laughter to take away from the severity of what he did." Two years ago, though, he started to get his life together.
"When you change," she says, "people get the wrong message; they think you think you're better than them."
Still, Eric never seemed worried his enemies might find him in the hotels or house where his family stayed, in other parts of the city. He took buses and trolleys to a fast-food job near his old neighborhood, never telling his supervisor at McDonald's, Damien Williams, that his life was in danger.
On Saturday, Williams ferried three dozen McDonald's workers back and forth to the funeral. The teens visited Eric in the hospital while he was on life support, made commemorative T-shirts, and collected hundreds of dollars for his family, which proved not easy to deliver.
Eric's family asked Williams to wait at a Center City intersection. "After a half-hour," he says, "cops escorted me to the car to pass the envelope. That totally freaked me out... . I mean, it's just a donation."
Williams is full of what-ifs. "If we did so much just to get everyone at the funeral," he says, "we would've done more to protect him."
Contact staff photographer April Saul at 215-854-2872 or firstname.lastname@example.org.