A public viewing was held before the service for the 24-year-old who was fatally shot by a police officer Monday.
Raleigh mayor Nancy McFarlane was among those in attendance, paying her respects. The sermon at Bible Way Temple was part celebration, part motivation, with the pastor telling people to make Denkins' death mean something and work to make the community stronger.
Minister: "If we don't want Akiel's death to be in vain, it doesn't have to be in vain. We can make a difference because of him." #abc11— Jon Camp (@JonCampABC11) March 4, 2016
NAACP lawyer Irv Joyner is also representing Denkins' family. He told ABC11 they are neck deep in their own investigation, running down a list of key questions they want answers to.
"Was he shot from the back? This question about the gun ... Where did the gun come from? If it had Mr. Denkins' prints on it, and what other evidence is there that he was armed? Witnesses we have say he was not armed," Joyner said.
A police chief's report that Denkins drew a gun before he was shot caught mourners off-guard as they prepared to lay him to rest Friday.
The funeral for Denkins was less than a day after the preliminary report was issued saying Denkins pulled a gun from his waistband and then reached toward the officer's weapon during a struggle. Denkins' death at the end of a foot chase had angered members of the predominantly black neighborhood where the shooting happened.
People who knew Denkins were shocked by the new details.
"It did catch a lot of us off guard," said Casanova Womack, who had mentored Denkins since 2011. "But right now our primary focus is on getting prepared for the funeral."
Raleigh Police Chief C.L. Deck-Brown's report for city leaders, which offered the first detailed description of the shooting, contained the following account:
Officer D.C. Twiddy stopped his cruiser when he saw Denkins because he knew the man had an outstanding warrant on felony drug charges. Denkins started to run, ducking between two houses and jumping a fence into a home's backyard.
Twiddy slipped on loose gravel as he tried to catch Denkins, then hurdled the fence and confronted the suspect as he tried to climb a second fence. Denkins stopped and turned toward Twiddy. As the two struggled, Twiddy said Denkins reached for a handgun in the front of his waistband. That's when Twiddy fired several shots.
The two continued to struggle, and the officer then felt Denkins' hand or arm "make contact" with his weapon.
People arriving for funeral of Akiel Denkins, man shot by Raleigh police officer. Live report coming up on abc11 pic.twitter.com/rvNRyb9cR7— Caitlin Knute-ABC11 (@CKnuteABC11) March 4, 2016
"Officer Twiddy, fearing that Mr. Denkins was either going to shoot him or attempt to take his duty weapon, stepped back and fired additional shots at Mr. Denkins, who still had the firearm in his hand," the report said.
At that point, Denkins collapsed and dropped the gun, which had previously been reported stolen. The gun is being tested for fingerprints as part of a continuing probe by the State Bureau of Investigation.
There is no dash cam video because the shooting happened away from the patrol car, and because Twiddy hadn't turned the blue lights, which activate the camera.
"We are not jumping to any quick conclusions, we don't know what happened," said the Rev. William Barber, head of the NC NAACP. "We know we must find out all of what happened. That report has not been cross-examined, it has not been opened up, we've not heard a lot of the further evidence that may come forward. So we don't know."
Separately, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said that a preliminary autopsy shows Denkins was shot in his right chest, left forearm, right upper arm and right shoulder. The four gunshots caused injuries to Denkins' heart and lungs.
The medical examiner is still looking into how and where the bullets entered Denkins' body. When asked whether Denkins was shot in the back, as one witness suggested after the shooting, Freeman said the medical examiner's office was not authorized to release that information yet.
That witness, Claresa Williams, said she saw the confrontation develop and heard six gunshots but did not see Denkins fall from the bullets.
About 20 people milled around calmly early Thursday evening at the makeshift memorial next to the shooting scene. Kasual Walker, 33, said she knew Denkins for several years and didn't believe Denkins would have drawn a gun on the officer.
"Akiel is not one who's going to shoot. I think he was running and the officer got mad," Walker said. "The officers are trying to come up with solutions to cover his butt," she added, referring to Twiddy.
Womack, Denkins' mentor at Neighbor to Neighbor Outreach, said he never knew Denkins to carry a gun and the description from the chief was "definitely outside of his character."
Womack said in a phone interview that community leaders were urging people to stay calm and focus on supporting Denkins' family. Womack has been sharing memories with family and friends, saying "the consistent message you'll hear is about him trying to be the best father to his children that he could."
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