This story was written by Randall Howell and is copyright Native Sun News.
Grief was palpable. The tears, pervasive.
Hurt, there was. Anger, too.
It wracked their hearts – young and old alike – as they said final goodbyes to a young, but fallen, Oglala Lakota warrior.
And if, as the elders insist, tears are the language of the heart, then quiet mourners spoke love loudly May 7 during funeral services for 22-year-old Christopher J. Capps, who died in a hail of bullets from a sheriff’s deputy’s handgun on May 2.
Capps was buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Rapid City, S.D., after an hour-long funeral service with the Rev. David Matzko of St. Isaac’s Catholic Church officiating.
A black-and-red star quilt remained draped over the casket of the college-bound Native American as it was lowered into his grave, a grave that overlooks – in all four sacred directions – his beloved Black Hills.
Moments later, they – the more than 30 who attended his burial ceremony – were gone, but his longtime friends lingered, just as his life had before starting the journey to the Spirit World that Sunday evening, when Pennington County Sheriff’s deputy Dave Olson, fired at “least five shots” into Capps at close range.
Capps, who had been accepted at the University of South Dakota – Vermillion and was planning to start his college education this autumn, was pronounced dead at Rapid City Regional Hospital on May 2.
Emergency medical technicians had rushed him there by ambulance after the shooting, which took place in an open field bordered by wooden and wire fences just to the west of Sunnyside Mobile Home Community, off Everest Road and just north of the city limits.
“This should never have happened,” said an angry Amber Feickert, 22, who was a longtime friend and fellow classmate during their time at Dakota Middle School in Rapid City.
“There were so many other ways. They (the police) are taught to maim, not kill.”
More than 75 had attended the funeral (See obituary on Page B6), which was at Serenity Springs Chapel of Tranquility on a cloudy, windy morning until the sun finally broke through later at the midpoint of the burial ceremony. That gave those who were noticeably shivering with the Spring-day chill some opportunity to warm tear-stained faces and hands shaking from the cold.
On arrival, funeral attendees first signed a guest book, then viewed a framed biblical verse titled: I Refuse To Be Discouraged (Phil 4:13):
When circumstances threaten to rob me of my peace; He draws me close unto his arms; He soothes my heart and soul.
Scattered randomly on the tabletop were more than 40 casual and formal family photographs of Capps, an only child, and his parents, Jerry and Jaylene. In addition, funeral guests could view pictures of Capps and his friends as well as thumb through a ring-bound family album that also was chock-full of candid photographs.
Many of those friends – ones who lingered after the burial to talk about Capps and to share their grief – still were in disbelief that the man they knew in high school as the “class clown” had met such a violent end to his life.
“I still can’t believe it … that they took his life,” said Feickert, who explained that she first saw it on television and immediately called her friends, including Capps’ best friend, Christopher Rauch, 22.
“He was always ‘down’ (ready to go) for something. He’d do anything for you,” said Rauch, who also lives at the mobile home community, just off Sturgis Road just north of the city.
“It is so out of character,” said Garrett DeLeon, 22, a longtime friend who graduated with Capps from Rapid City Stevens High School along with the Class of 2006.
“It just doesn’t add up. Something’s wrong. The behavior (of Capps) that they talk about just doesn’t make sense.”
All remembered his sharp sense of humor and his talent for storytelling.
“He always had a story for you,” said Rauch, who gazed at the ground in his grief while the morning’s cold wind tore at the open zipper on his hoody.
“He was a funny guy. Fun to be around. He liked to laugh,” added Rauch, who was grieving for not being with his best friend on that fatal Sunday evening. “We grew up together in Rapid. We lived across from each other. We hung out. We hiked, we biked. We went fishing together and played video games.”
Another former, younger schoolmate, Melissa Herrera, 20, who dated Capps for three years agreed.
“He was such a funny guy,” she choked the words, her face reddened from crying.
“And he was always there for you. You could call him anytime. He was a practical joker … the class clown.”
Feickert remembered him as “a good kid” as she comforted a shivering Rauch, warming him from the wind-driven chill that swept through the gravesite – a resting place that’s not far from an east-west running, vertical board fence on the south side of the cemetery.
“If you were down, he was there for you,” said Feickert, who captured Rauch with her arms as the young man held back tears and breathed his grief into the emerging sunshine.
“He’d just brighten your day if you seemed down,” added Rauch.
“He’d just never do what they say he did,” said Jared Besler, 22, who called Capps a good friend and said he lived five doors down from the family home in rural Pennington County.
“I can’t imagine what would have provoked him (Capps) to do what they say he did,” said Ian Kellar, 22, who said he and Capps were “hang out” buddies.
“We ate lunch together every day at school. He just wasn’t like that.”
Law enforcement reports said Capps’ threatened the deputy sheriff as he approached the law officer at a walking pace from deep in the field, far to the rear of a final line of mobile homes.
In addition, reports indicated that Capps likely was reaching into his pockets when the deputy started firing. An eyewitness told Native Sun News that an unarmed Capps was only six to seven feet away and facing the deputy when gunfire began.
Reports also indicated that a search of Capps body after the shooting produced no gun.
At the cemetery, friends indicated that Capps didn’t ever carry a gun. One friend suggested that Capps may have been reaching for his cell phone to call his father – someone who could help him diffuse whatever misunderstanding was going down.
Another report indicated that the police had been called because Capps allegedly had assaulted a 15-year-old male that evening. That teenager also was taken to RCRH, but released almost immediately with little, if any, indication of injury.
“It makes me so angry,” said Tony Simmons, 22, also a longtime friend and former classmate. “I’ve known Capps half my lifetime. He was a great funnyman. He always liked to laugh. He didn’t deserve that.”
Born Nov. 27, 1987, in Wichita, Kans., Capps was planning to pursue computer animation and biology at USD, according to his parents.
Already, he had performed some contract work for video studies on the East and West coasts, his mother said.
Survivors include his parents; maternal grandparents, Javier and Arvella Torres of Lead, S.D.; and two cousins, Megan Snow of Spearfish, S.D. and Olivia Young of Santa Marguerita, Calif.
Pallbearers were Bill Snow, Darrel Henrichsen, Christopher Rauch, Patrick McBride, Steven Kaiser and Pat DeLeon.
Contact Randall Howell at firstname.lastname@example.org
Native Sun News: Deputy shoots and kills Lakota