CHICAGO – Mourners in Jennifer Hudson's childhood church Sunday listened as the second-grade teacher of the entertainer's slain nephew read aloud from journals written by his classmates — including one who lamented that Julian King didn't live long enough to become president.
With three of Julian's classmates standing by her side, Carmen Williams of Gunsaulus Scholastic Academy remembered the 7-year-old as a smart boy who liked to tell knock-knock jokes.
"When Julian raised his hand, he had that enthusiastic light in his eyes, and he always — always — had the right answer," Williams said.
Friends and relatives gathered for the memorial service at Pleasant Gift Memorial Baptist Church on the city's South Side to listen to spiritual songs and reminisce about Julian, as well as Hudson's mother and brother, who were found shot to death late last month.
Many of those songs featured Hudson, a former "American Idol" contestant with a new album and an Academy Award, who did not attend the service for Darnell Donerson, 57, Jason Hudson, 29, and Julian. Jennifer Hudson's sister, Julia, also did not attend. Private funeral services are scheduled for Monday.
Mourners dressed in black or white hugged and greeted one another Sunday while music played on the chapel speakers. Large pictures of Jason Hudson and Julian King stood at the front of the room, and relatives took turns recounting stories.
Shari Sweat, a cousin of Darnell Hudson Donerson, called Donerson by her nickname, "Doll," as she recounted how important the upcoming election was to her.
"Doll refused to be left out of this historical moment in this nation, and before she left these shores she cast her vote," Sweat said.
Several of Julian's young cousins sang "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" as the audience clapped along. Julian's classmates said he shared his school supplies generously and loved Spider-Man.
One wrote a journal entry after learning of Julian's death that read, "Julian was smart. I'm sad he didn't get to be president of the United States."
Sean Howard, executive assistant to Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, said he was with the Hudson family when they went to the medical examiner's office last week to identify Julian's body.
"When Jennifer and her family walked in, Jennifer was a pillar in that room," Howard said. "You have a true leader in your family in Jennifer."
Jason Hudson's cousin, the Rev. Quentin Washington, reminded mourners that he would have turned 30 on Feb. 17. Washington said Hudson recently joked about getting older, saying "his Afro was getting thin."
Outside, supporters waited in a line that stretched around the block to attend a public ceremony held after the one for friends and family.
Victoria Davidson, 35, of Milwaukee, drove more than an hour to Chicago with her two daughters and niece to show Jennifer Hudson their support. They stood in line for an hour before dropping off a note inside.
"Hopefully this will be some kind of wake-up call," Davidson said of the killings. "We're all coming together now, but we need to come together to stop the violence."
The bodies of Donerson and Hudson were discovered Oct. 24 at the family's home. Three days later the body of Julian was discovered in a sport utility vehicle on the city's West Side.
No one has been charged in the killings, which police have described as "domestic related." Chicago police last week found the gun used in the three killings in a vacant lot.
Authorities have called Julia Hudson's estranged husband, 27-year-old William Balfour, a "person of interest."
Police arrested Balfour the same day the bodies of Donerson and Hudson were discovered. After 48 hours — the longest Chicago police can hold a person without charges — Balfour was taken by the Illinois Department of Corrections on a parole violation.
Balfour, Julian's stepfather, served seven years for a 1999 attempted murder and vehicular hijacking conviction. He remained jailed in Joliet on Sunday, according to corrections spokesman Derek Schnapp.
His mother, Michelle Balfour, of Chicago has denied that her son had anything to do with the deaths.