Saturday, March 10, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || UPDATED: 3/11/18
Featured image: The caskets of James Eric Davis Sr. and Diva Jeneen Davis are carried out of Broadview Missionary Baptist Church on Saturday. | VFP
A sudden, collective hush seized the crowd of at least 1,000 mourners packed tightly inside of the massive first-level sanctuary of Broadview Missionary Baptist Church, 2100 S. 25th Ave. in Broadview, on Saturday.
The scratchy murmurings of the Norcom police dispatch had come over the church’s sound system, unexpectedly it seemed to most people in the audience. Moments later, a voice announced over the dispatch that the call sign of Bellwood Police Officer James Eric Davis Sr. would be officially retired.
“Attention all units, attention all units, call sign 392 is officially out of service,” the dispatcher announced. “This is the end of your tour of duties — gone but never forgotten.”
It was a fitting tribute to the part-time officer who worked in the department for 20 years — someone who Bellwood Mayor Andre Harvey, a childhood friend, described in glowing terms.
“James is my hero,” Harvey said during the service. “A hero is a person who you admire or idolize for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities; that was James Eric Davis to me … He gave so much of his self to so many people.”
Davis Sr., 48, lay in a casket just feet away from that of his wife, Diva Jeneen Smith Davis, 47. The married couple of three children was fatally shot last week by their son, James Eric Davis Jr., law enforcement officials believe.
The couple, who lived in Plainfield, had been on the campus of Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Mich., visiting their son one day before students at the college were to leave for spring break.
Davis Jr., 19, who officials said had been acting erratically in the hours leading to the shooting, was eventually captured and hospitalized for five days. On March 7, Davis Jr. was booked into a Michigan jail and held on a $1 million bond. He has been charged with two counts of murder and a weapons violation.
On Saturday, however, relatives and friends recalled Davis Sr.’s and Diva’s unconditional love for their three children — Russell, James Jr. and Alexis.
The family’s bond was grounded in God, community and sports (the parents were mainstays at James Jr.’s baseball games and Alexis’ cheerleading practices), among other things.
Davis Sr. and his wife, Diva, who were fatally shot last week. | VFP
Davis Sr. was born on Oct. 26, 1969. His parents, Walter and Erma Jean Davis, “knew he was special and would succeed in life,” according to his obituary. “He was born a premature baby, but was always a fighter.”
The year of Davis Sr.’s birth, the Harveys had become one of the first African American families to move into Bellwood, the mayor recalled. In 1973, the Davis family followed in that pioneering mold.
“Back in those days, Bellwood was changing,” Harvey said. “More African Americans were moving to Bellwood. When African Americans moved in, you knew who they were, because there weren’t many of us. The Davis family moved a block away from mine. I was 9 years old when I first met them.”
The mayor and Davis Sr. shared babysitters, Linda Jones and her daughters, and were raised by a close-knit community.
“The Davises had the biggest house on the block on 23rd Street,” Harvey said. “I had the pleasure of seeing James and [his brother] Marcus as young kids playing together. They were like Batman and Robin. I really appreciate seeing James become the man he grew up to be.”
Davis Sr. attended Walther Lutheran High School and Triton College before enlisting in the U.S. Army.
He “fell in love with Diva” while working at the Motorola Company in Libertyville, according to the obituary. The couple eventually married. The wife, friends and relatives said Saturday, was her husband’s saving grace.
“If James is a hero, Diva is — I made this word up — a heroess,” Harvey said. “Diva was the support, the backbone that made James whole.”
Officers place the coffins of the slain couple into hearses on Saturday. | VFP
A native of Gary, Ind., Diva was born on March 30, 1970 to Ezell and Cheryl Smith. During her teenage years, her uncle, Donald Britt recalled, she would often travel from Gary to the West Side of Chicago visiting her other family members.
“At 14 and 15, she was on the highway getting it,” Britt said, adding, in a moment of irony, that his “phenomenal” niece was a “connector for our family” who exuded love “regardless of all of the stuff that was going on in our family. She taught me how to love.”
Odell Clark said that he and his cousin, Davis Sr., “ran the streets together, did everything together — then came along Diva, who took my running partner away.”
There was tension “for the first couple of years,” Clark said, “but it was nothing of hate. I just wanted my running buddy back. But Diva was probably the best thing that happened to Eric … She changed his life.”
The power of the couple’s influence in their respective fields was evident during the roughly 2-hour service.
Davis Sr. was deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and was eventually honored in Washington, D.C. by former president George W. Bush for his service. He was also a recruiting officer for the U.S. Army.
Police officers, military veterans and members of the Illinois National Guard from across the state attended Saturday’s service, which included a formal military salute.
Diva was a real estate broker and American Airlines flight attendant. Her fellow flight attendants, in full uniform, filled several pews.
Among the mourners was Bellwood Police Officer Cliff Griffin, who said that he shared a locker with Davis Sr.
“James was a standup guy,” Griffin said. “He was somebody who everybody looked up to. His smile alone — if he had a problem, you’d never know it. He always smiled and that’s what made people respect and love him and want to be around him.” VFP
CORRECTION: This article has been updated to reflect Davis Sr.’s call sign, which was 392, not 62. VFP regrets the error.
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