By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - The teacher of a 12-year-old boy shot dead by a Cleveland police officer while carrying a replica pellet gun said at his funeral on Wednesday he was a child who loved to sing to his classmates.
"There's a hole now in the class," Carletta Goodwin, Tamir Rice's 5th grade teacher said at the service. "I'm going to carry him in my heart. He will always be missed."
A police officer responding to a 911 call of a man pointing a gun at people shot Rice twice in the abdomen on Nov. 22 within two seconds of arriving at a park. Rice died the following day.
The gun Rice held turned out to be an Airsoft-type replica that resembles a semiautomatic pistol, but typically shoots plastic pellets, police said. The caller told a dispatcher it might be fake, information not relayed to responding officers.
Rice's uncle, Michael Petty, said Tamir could no longer speak for himself and his death should bring changes.
"Through us Tamir will be heard from the grave," Petty said during the service. "Through peaceful protest, civil disobedience and legislation Tamir will be heard."
Petty called for changes in the manufacturing of the replica guns and said there was an excess of police use of deadly force.
"The police are public servants, not James Bond with a license to kill," Petty said.
Rice's shooting sparked protests in Cleveland and came two days before demonstrations turned violent in Ferguson, Missouri after a grand jury declined to charge a white police officer in the August shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.
About 200 people attended Rice's funeral at Mt. Sinai Baptist Church. Many mourners, including his mother, Samaria Rice, wore white T-shirts with his picture on them and the words "Justice for Tamir" and RIH, for rest in heaven.
"The tragic circumstance under which Tamir died was not how he lived," said Pastor Henry Currie, pastor of Mary B Wise Baptist Church, where Rice was active in the youth ministry.
Rice had six siblings and loved drawing, playing video games and swimming, according to a memorial program.
"I try and cope the best I can, but I'm missing you so much," Samaria Rice wrote in the program. "If I could only see you and once more feel your touch."
(Editing by David Bailey and Eric Walsh)