EAST CHICAGO — Dozens gathered Friday night to remember a friend and loved one struck down by gunfire and pleaded for change to end such gun violence in the city.
Brian Thomas, 33, was fatally shot during a barrage of gunfire July 28 as people gathered at the Fuel Star gas station in the 4900 block of Kennedy Avenue in the city's Calumet neighborhood.
It was there, over the course of two hours Friday night, family and friends shared memories of Thomas.
“He’d probably be like, ‘Aww y’all love me?’” said Thomas' sister Cirena Thomas, 29, of San Antonio. “He was gonna come visit me in Texas … I don’t know how I’m gonna get through this when I’m back home.”
Brian and Cirena were born 10 months apart.
“He was my twin,” Cirena Thomas said.
Laquita Rias, 29, of East Chicago, said Thomas would always make everybody around him laugh.
“He could get a laugh out of everyone. He was always laughing and smiling ... just a jokester,” Rias said. “He was one of my best friends, like a brother ... This is just hard.”
Rias said she and Thomas had been friends since middle school. Thomas graduated from East Chicago Central High School in 2008 and worked as a table dealer at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond.
The vigil started with everyone in attendance gathering to pray before releasing balloons, followed by a discussion of serious gun violence in the community.
“We’ve lost two other cousins like this last year; it’s all here in the streets. That’s how it is,” said Thomas’ brother Eric Thomas, 31, of East Chicago.
Eric Thomas expressed frustration toward East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland.
“Do you see the mayor here? No? Exactly. I don’t think he cares,” Eric Thomas said. “East Chicago is more than just one part of our town. Our lives matter, too. Let’s change this for the next person.”
Eric Thomas said he last saw his brother about a half hour before the shooting at Riley Park for the city's annual Calumet Day celebration.
East Chicago has had four fatal shootings so far this year.
Martayveus Carter, 23, an East Chicago Central football star who set records at Grand Valley State University and recently worked out with the Kansas City Chiefs, was wounded in the shooting.
“I don’t know (Carter’s) condition, but I’m praying for him,” Eric Thomas said. “He’s a good dude.”
Brian Thomas’ cousin Cenethia Elaine Gulley, 51, of East Chicago, expressed appreciation on behalf of Thomas’ family.
“We would just like to thank the people that have shown so much love and support towards our family in this time of need. We ask that you continue to pray for us and just please stop the violence," Gulley said.
Visitation for Brian Thomas is set for 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday at Greater First Baptist Church, 4862 Olcott Ave., East Chicago. Funeral services will begin at 11 a.m., with Bishop Tavis Grant II officiating.
Police are still investigating Thomas' homicide.
Anyone with video or photos of the shooting or its aftermath or other information is asked to call Detective Miguel Pena at 219-391-8318. To remain anonymous, call 219-391-8500.