Funeral held for teen football player killed shielding girls from gunfire

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Family, friends and the Knoxville community said their final farewells to the teen many consider a hero.

The church was packed and emotions were high at Overcoming Believers Church on Saturday. More than 2,000 people came to pay their respects to 15-year-old Zaevion Dobson, including his math tutor of three years.

Zaevion Dobson

The Fulton High School football player was killed Dec. 17 after shielding three girls from bullets. Police believe men with possible gang ties fired into a crowd of kids.

“I have mixed emotions. That was the ultimate sacrifice to say, ‘I will think about other people other than myself’ with no hesitation,” said Jihad El-Amin. “A lot us can’t say that would’ve been our instant thought to think about the others that we were with and to protect them over ourselves.”

Friends described the Fulton High School Sophomore as smart, funny, a playmaker and showstopper on the football field and a hero in the Knoxville community.

“If you knew the young man and he laughed with you, smiled with you, talked to you, shared his life and time with you and if you were around that family you would know that he was worth it,” said El-Amin

Judith Pelot, who works with Zaevion’s mother, said Zenobia Dobson is thankful for all the prayers, calls and support through such a difficult time.

“She has a very strong faith and she feels that her son’s death will be for a purpose,” she said.

Dobson’s teammate, Gaston Strong, said the funeral on Saturday is not goodbye, it’s a celebration of Zaevion’s life.

“He’s a great kid you know, always happy, smiling, it was always good vibes with him, brightened up everybody’s day,” said Strong. “It’s definitely tough whenever you lose a teammate especially one like Zae, a real good kid and a really good friend of mine. He’s going to be missed dearly.”

Zaevion Dobson’s mother remembers her son

While planning a funeral and dealing with national attention, the Dobson family found time to tell Knoxville Police Department officers thank you.

The police department tweeted out a photo of the flowers and smiley face balloon saying “Thank you to the family of Zaevion Dobson for thoughtful baskets delivered to investigators and command at KPD!”

Earlier in the week, Zenobia Dobson said members of the community, the Knoxville Police Department, Fulton High School staff and students, and so many others have all come forward with kind words and actions to let her and her family know how much Zaevion was loved and will be missed. The employee of the Knoxville-Knox County CAC Office on Aging Mobile Meals program said she is literally overwhelmed with calls and has not had time to be alone with her immediate family to process the loss of her son. As a result she is asking that all correspondence be mailed to her at the CAC Office on Aging.

“With Ms. Dobson’s permission, the CAC Office on Aging asks that she and her family be left in peace and out of the public eye right now,” said the office on aging in a statement. “Thank you for showing respect to Zaevion’s family by giving them this time alone.”

Nation mourns Zaevion Dobson’s death

While the Knoxville community continues to mourn the loss of a 15-year-old football player, his story is reaching all parts of the United States and the world.

President Barack Obama tweeted Sunday “Zaevion Dobson died saving three friends from getting shot. He was a hero at 15. What’s our excuse for not acting?”

The Fulton football player’s brave actions were also mentioned on ESPN’s The Sports Reporters. “Say a prayer today in the memory of a 15-year-old high school student, Knoxville football player named Zaevion Dobson. Shot to death in our country of guns the other day so that three other girls wouldn’t be,” said Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News.

A temporary memorial has been set up on Badgett Drive by First Calvary Baptist Church with teddy bears, a cross and messages from people who knew him. Fulton High School Athletic Director Jody Wright says they’re working with the family to develop a scholarship in Dobson’s memory.

“He was a leader, obviously with his life and death, he demonstrated sacrifice and serving others and so I’m sure those will probably be a lot of the criteria that will be used,” said Wright.

The details of the scholarship are still in the works, but the goal is to reward a Fulton student in Dobson’s name.

“I hope it’s something that really takes hold and people get behind because what a way to honor a great life lived here at Fulton High School,” Wright said.

A GoFundMe page set up for Zaevion’s family has raised more than $62,000 since Friday, with more than 7,000 shares worldwide. People who have never met Zaevion or his family just said they wanted to help out.

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