RACINE— At a Sunday evening vigil for Gene Smith, the man stabbed to death last week, it wasn’t just family members mourning him, but also coworkers.
The Racine Interfaith Coalition vigil, which drew nearly 100 people — with more continuing to arrive even after it had ended — was held in the 3800 block of North Bay Drive, in front of the duplex where Smith, 35, was killed Thursday.
Severely injured in the attack was Smith’s girlfriend, Joy Reid, who was taken by Flight for Life to Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa and was last reported to be in critical but stable condition.
Being held in the Racine County Jail on a $1 million cash bond is Lapiate P. Boone, with whom Reid has two children. Boone faces multiple felony charges, including first-degree intentional homicide, which carries a sentence of life in prison if convicted.
As RIC members, Women’s Resource Center representatives and other gathered for the 6 p.m. vigil, RIC co-president Tammy Hayward noted that Thursday’s fatal attack was the third domestic violence death in about the past three weeks. Smith reportedly died as he was trying to protect Reid from Boone’s knife attack at Boone’s home, where Reid was helping her children, ages 12 and 16, pack some things.
During Sunday’s vigil, after remarks and a prayer by the Rev. Don Francis of North Point United Methodist Church and the singing of hymns, attendees were invited to speak. Smith’s father, Gene Smith Jr., said: “If you know my son, I’m sure you know that he was a most outstanding young man.”
“Let that be known that we lost a great shepherd, father, worker, son, grandson,” Smith said, and he thanked the group for their “concern and kind words.”
Later, Smith added: “I’m sorry for all of us; we lost a prince.”
“Your son was a hero; he was trying to protect an innocent,” Hayward said, “so we know he’s in the arms of the Lord.”
‘Great boss, great friend’
“Both (Reid and Smith) were wonderful,” said Christy Owens, who had worked for Smith at Froedtert Kenosha Hospital. “Gene was a good boss; he’s very kind. They both were very kind people.”
Last they’d heard, she added, Reid was doing better. (Reid’s condition was unavailable from the hospital Sunday.)
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Susie Spence, who worked for Smith at Froedtert Kenosha, said of him: “Great boss, great friend, and he will be truly missed.”
“I’m just blessed to have known him for the short three years that I’ve known him.”
After Spence composed herself, she talked about the rivalry that she, a Cubs fan from Chicago, had with Smith, a Cardinals fan who came to this area from St. Louis about a dozen years ago.
“We went at it like the baseball team would,” Spence said. “So, I’m going to miss that. ‘Cause I know come Monday, me and him is supposed to be arguing over the games for this weekend.” (The Cubs and Cardinals concluded a weekend series on Sunday.)
‘Touched my life’
Jeff Zematis had been Smith’s boss at Froedtert Kenosha until recently, when Smith earned a promotion.
“I’m here as a friend today — I’m not here as his boss,” Zematis said. “I’m here as a friend to a man who touched my life in a short period of time.”
Zematis described the last conversation the two men had as Smith was poised to take another position within the organization.
“We were actually discussing the joys and heartaches of our employees that are here today, and the smiles that they give us and the laughs that they give us each day,” Zematis said.
“And in the same context of all this discussion, he was telling me about his mother, who taught him the lessons of friendship … he was a great man with charisma that will forever touch people’s lives.
“In the short period of time that I’ve known him, I couldn’t respect anybody more.”