Hundreds say their final goodbyes to Irvo Otieno: ‘Shine on. Rest in power’

Hundreds gather at First Baptist Church in Chesterfield to say their final goodbyes to Irvo Otieno Wednesday.
Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 5:55 PM EDT
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CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WWBT) - Hundreds of people gathered at First Baptist Church in Chesterfield to say their final goodbyes to Irvo Otieno on Wednesday.

The 28-year-old man died in the custody of Henrico Sheriff’s deputies and Central State Hospital workers earlier this month, on March 6.

Big names, including Rev. Al Sharpton and Richmond City Council President Mike Jones, attended Wednesday’s service.

“When I took my son to the hospital, this is not what I envisioned. I didn’t think my son was not coming home, but this is where we are, and I’m sorry,” Otieno’s mother, Caroline Ouko, said.

Family and friends shared what the Henrico man meant to him Wednesday afternoon.

“Irvo’s life has given me purpose. The community has responded graciously. Thank you. We couldn’t have done this without you,” Otieno’s brother Leon Ochieng said. “Irvo was a big brother I never had. Irvo had a bright smile. To me, Irvo was a quiet before the storm. Irvo was slow to anger and quick to forgive.”

One of Otieno’s friends, Zach Wise, also took the podium Wednesday to share childhood memories.

“I’m going to miss Irvo’s laugh. He has a million-dollar smile,” Wise said.

Family attorney Ben Crump issued an “International Call for Justice” during Otieno’s funeral.

“He’s a son not just of America but a son of Africa. He’s a son of Virginia. He’s a son of Richmond County. He’s a son of Henrico County,” Crump said.

Crump says the International Call for Justice is simple.

“When black people in America have mental health issues, we cannot treat them like criminal issues,” Crump said. “The determinant factor of whether you live or die when confronted by the police, when you’re having a mental health crisis, shouldn’t be relegated to the color of your skin, whether you live or face a death sentence.”

The demand for action holds true for Sharpton, who delivered the eulogy.

Sharpton says America continues to hear stories of violence, including the Nashville shooting that left three children and three adults dead on Monday.

“We normalize too much in this country. We act like it’s normal that nine-year-old kids get killed for going to school. We act like its normal that a young man, who wanted to build a record company, despite mental illness, he had a dream, and if he could dream past his illness, what is your excuse to not get structure for people that have mental illness that can be dealt with in the same manner?” Sharpton said.

Sharpton called for an “Irvo Law” that will help protect people suffering from mental health illness.

He says he’s angry and wants justice for Otieno.

“This boy was not breaking no laws. He was not hitting nobody. He had a sickness or illness. If you’re not equipped to handle the illness, then you should not have showed up to answer the call,” Sharpton said.

Sharpton also called on Gov. Glenn Youngkin to help hold those involved in Otieno’s death accountable.

“If the governor wants to run for president, he got to go through Caroline,” Sharpton said. “I’m not here to attack him. I’m here to challenge him that we all need to quit posing and posturing and start serving our people.”

While the governor did not attend Wednesday’s service, some from his administration did. His office also released a statement:

“The Governor continues to lift up the Otieno family in prayer as they remember their son on this sad day. To support the community and family during this difficult time, the Governor asked members of the Youngkin administration attend Mr. Otieno’s funeral today. The Governor remains steadfast that we must get to a place in the Commonwealth where people in need of mental health services are met pre-crisis. He’s committed to transformative changes in Virginia’s behavioral health system so that all Virginians can receive the help they need when they need it.”

Otieno’s mother says they’ll continue to fight against what she calls cruel injustice.

“We will get to the bottom of what happened to you. We will step for you. We will walk for you, ten toes down. Rest in peace, my son. Shine on. Rest in power. I love you and will always love you,” Ouko said.

Sharpton says if and when all ten suspects go to trial, he plans to come back to Virginia to attend. He says he wants to see a fair result.