On Sunday afternoon, you would have thought the Douglas family was having a reunion.
At the top of a hill on Carousel Road, cousins played football with their uncles in the side yard of a two-story brick home while the sun beat down. Small clusters of grandchildren kept passing in and out through the front door, clutching plastic cups of soda and navigating around their parents' legs. The elders stood in the driveway, joking about how kids these days had everything handed to them and wouldn't know how to start a fire if their lives depended on it.
But not 10 feet away from where a group of women sat on the front porch watching the family bustle around, a few dozen tea candles sitting in the grass spelled out a sobering message — "RIP Cornelius."
Latasha Bailey, Cornelius Douglas' niece, said the whole family had gathered at the home for the birthday of Cornelius' 3-year-old nephew just hours before he was shot and killed a few houses away at the bottom of the hill early Sunday morning.
"He was out here throwing the football with the kids and everything," she said.
At 1:04 a.m., Chattanooga police responded to a call about a person shot at 1419 Carousel Road and found the 27-year-old dead from a gunshot wound.
Another man who'd been shot, Jermichael Tillery, 22, was found a block away from the crime scene. He was taken to the hospital for treatment, then charged with criminal homicide and possession of a firearm in Douglas' death, according to police.
Now on an otherwise beautiful Sunday afternoon, the Douglas family gathered for a second time in a weekend, some still wearing their suits and dresses from morning church, but this time they gathered in mourning.
Bailey said when she got the news of her uncle's death, it felt like "someone reached into your back and started pulling on your heart as hard as they could."
"He was a good person. Trusting. Maybe a little too trusting."
She and her family are adamant that Cornelius' death, the 12th slaying in Chattanooga this year, is unconnected to an ongoing gang dispute that has plagued Chattanooga for more than a week. Police confirmed Sunday neither the shooter nor the victim are validated gang members.
The city saw 12 shootings in seven days. A 17-year-old was killed and 12 people were wounded, including two women who were pregnant. At least seven of the shootings were motivated by the gang dispute, police have said.
Cornelius' eldest sister, Angela Kelly, spoke on the dispute and her brother's death, saying the violence has to stop.
"It's just senseless," she said. "On either side you have a family who's lost a son, brother, cousin, father, a friend — they've lost someone to violence. On the other side, you lose someone to the system."
Kelly and her nieces didn't know what happened at the scene or what could have led to Cornelius' death, but did say it was random and even harder to cope with because the family has known the suspected killer his entire life. Most members of the family grew up on the same street where Cornelius was shot and where they gathered now to memorialize him.
"We all got along. Carousel is a big family," Kelly said.
But now, that family is just trying to pick up the pieces after an unexpected tragedy. On Sunday afternoon, a steady stream of family and neighbors trudged past the red balloons tied up next to the road in front of the crime scene and up the hill to the family home to pay their respects.
"We're still just trying to wrap our heads around it. Still dealing with the shock and looking for answers. Some form of closure," Bailey said while standing on the front porch to welcome yet another group of arrivals inside.
"The best thing we have now to lean on is each other and Christ."
Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at email@example.com or 423-757-6731.