SARATOGA SPRINGS, Utah (AP) — A young man fatally shot by Utah police was a shy, gentle man who loved art and music and was trying to navigate a difficult transition into adulthood, family and friends said Thursday at his funeral.
Nearly 200 people gathered Thursday inside a Mormon church in Saratoga Springs, Utah, to remember 22-year-old Darrien Hunt.
Hunt, who was black, was killed on Sept. 10 in a strip mall in the upscale city south of Salt Lake City in an incident that has triggered questions about the role his race played in the event. Police say Hunt was carrying a samurai-type sword and lunged at officers.
At the funeral, family friend Andrew Scivally said Hunt was trying to figure out how to be a responsible adult and was tackling challenges that were making him a better person, including participating in an all-night team running race.
"That's a tough part of life: you're one foot in this adulthood and your other foot is still over here being a kid," Scivally said. "Did Darrien make all the right moves and choices and steps? No. And neither did we, neither will we."
The fatal shooting didn't get much attention until Hunt's mother came out days later and said she believed her son was shot because he was black. A family attorney said an independent autopsy showed Hunt was shot six times from the rear, which he says shows Hunt was fleeing and casts doubt on the police version of the events.
Authorities, however, say race played no role in the shooting. They say officers went on a call about a suspicious man walking near businesses in a strip mall while carrying a sword. He was shot after lunging at the officers with a sword that had a 2.5-foot steel blade, authorities said.
The details of the shooting and the role race played weren't mentioned during the 90-minute funeral at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meetinghouse.
Afterward, Tamu Smith, a family friend from Provo, said she doesn't think a young white man with a sword would have been deemed suspicious.
"It's easy sometimes to look at a brown kid that is out of place in Utah, which is a lot of time, and say they look suspicious," said Smith, a black woman who has two sons, 14 and 11.
She called it "heartbreaking" to see empty seats in the church, saying the absence of community leaders showed a lack of support for the family. This shooting, on the heels of others around the country of young black men by police, has her worried about her own sons.
Saratoga Springs, a city of 23,000 people is 93 percent white and less than 1 percent black, U.S. Census figures show. Hunt had a white mother and black father.
The shooting is under review by local authorities.
Online court records show Hunt had a couple of previous encounters with Saratoga Springs police for a domestic violence dispute with a sibling and marijuana possession.
Hunt's parents didn't speak during the funeral, but his father, Curtis Hunt, sang a tearful and emotional rendition of the song, "My Soul Hungered."
Friend Duane Domino said there's not enough information yet to determine if race factored into the shooting, but he said Hunt's death has at least spurred Utah officials to reassess appropriate policing techniques.
"I have no idea what Darrien's doing now, but I'm sure he's loving deeper, caring more, and I'm almost sure there's some music is playing somewhere," Domino said.