GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Family and friends of a slain Gulfport teen gathered to celebrate what would have been his 20th birthday on Saturday.
The day also marks exactly three months since Ray Howze was murdered in a convenience store parking lot. His alleged killer, fled to New Mexico. Since then, his family has been anxiously waiting for justice, and doing their best to cope with the loss of lil' Ray.
"It still seems unreal, really, we can't grasp it, and it's just. It's just shocking," said Angela Ellis.
The sounds of children playing, and the aroma of barbeque filled the air. The only thing missing was Ray.
"Today is his birthday, so I got to celebrate his birthday. I'm just mad we got to celebrate it this way. It could have been a lot better, but everything happens for a reason," said Jaiquon Johnson.
Many friends and family members of the murdered teen, adorned t-shirts and dog tags with the teens smiling face. A smile they will never forget.
"He was always happy, always wanted to laugh about everything, joking, he's the kid that would come and poke you and run off. I miss him so much," said Ellis.
In the three months since his murder, family members say it's been hard knowing his alleged killer is still waiting to be brought back to Mississippi for punishment, but through prayer they've been able to uplift one another.
"Just keeping our faith strong, and just knowing that there's a reason. God makes no mistakes. There's a purpose for all of this, and we're just trying to understand it," said Ellis.
Balloons in hand, chanting "long live Ray", the crowd made their way to the cemetery. As the balloons drifted into the blue sky, a few tears were shed, as loved ones remembered the young man who didn't live to see his 20th birthday.
"He was the type that's trying to do something with his life, and make it out this neighborhood that he was in. That's really what we talked about a lot, just survival, how we gone survive and you see he didn't get to survive," said Johnson.
Along with the birthday party, Howze's aunt hosted a voter registration drive.