Michael Brown remembered as a 'little kid in a big body'

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Michael Brown Looked Forward to an Education
BY SHARON COHN and JIM SUHR

FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) - Michael Brown Jr. was on the verge of starting college, eager to launch himself into the adult world. Instead, on Monday he'll be mourned at his funeral, more than two weeks after his fatal shooting by a white police officer- an act that ignited days of violent protests and reawakened racial tensions that still linger in the nation.

Brown, who was unarmed when he was killed, became an instant symbol of racial injustice as protesters flooded into the streets after his death. Civil rights leaders said the shooting in this predominantly black St. Louis suburb revived long simmering questions about police treatment of minorities across the country.

During more than a week of demonstrations - marred by Molotov cocktails and billowing clouds of tear gas - Brown's name and face were frequently visible on T-shirts and picket signs. Some also chanted: "I AM MIKE BROWN!"

Even as the details of what happened during the Aug. 9 confrontation remain unclear, a portrait has emerged of the 18-year-old Brown.

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Michael Brown remembered as a 'little kid in a big body'
ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 25: Photos surround the casket of Michael Brown inside Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church awaiting the start of his funeral on August 25, 2014 in St. Louis Missouri. Michael Brown,18 year-old unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by a Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the nearby town of Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. His death caused several days of violent protests along with rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Richard Perry-Pool/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 25: A St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap at rests on top of the casket of Michael Brown inside Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church awaiting the start of his funeral on August 25, 2014 in St. Louis Missouri. Michael Brown,18 year-old unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by a Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the nearby town of Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. His death caused several days of violent protests along with rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Richard Perry-Pool/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 25: Director Spike Lee takes a picture of a black St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap that rests on top of the casket of Michael Brown inside Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church awaiting the start of his funeral on August 25, 2014 in St. Louis Missouri. Michael Brown,18 year-old unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by a Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the nearby town of Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. His death caused several days of violent protests along with rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Robert Cohen-Pool/Getty Images)
Lesley McSpadden is comforted during the funeral services for her son Michael Brown on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis. Hundreds of people gathered to say goodbye to Brown, who was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer on Aug. 9. The more than two weeks since Michael Brown's death have been marked by nightly protests, some violent and chaotic, although tensions have eased in recent days. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post Dispatch, Robert Cohen, Pool)
ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 25: People raise their arms during the funeral of Michael Brown inside Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church on August 25, 2014 in St. Louis Missouri. Michael Brown, an 18 year-old unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the nearby town of Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. His death caused several days of violent protests along with rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Richard Perry-Pool/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 25: Photos surround the casket of Michael Brown inside Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church awaiting the start of his funeral on August 25, 2014 in St. Louis Missouri. Michael Brown,18 year-old unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by a Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the nearby town of Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. His death caused several days of violent protests along with rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Richard Perry-Pool/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 25: People gather for the funeral of Michael Brown inside Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church on August 25, 2014 in St. Louis Missouri. Michael Brown,18 year-old unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by a Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the nearby town of Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. His death caused several days of violent protests along with rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Robert Cohen-Pool/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 25: A man reacts during funeral services for Michael Brown at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church on August 25, 2014 in St. Louis Missouri. Michael Brown, an 18 year-old unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the nearby town of Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. His death caused several days of violent protests along with rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Robert Cohen-Pool/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 25: The casket leaves the church at the funeral of Michael Brown at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church on August 25, 2014 in St. Louis Missouri. Michael Brown, an 18 year-old unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the nearby town of Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. His death caused several days of violent protests along with rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Richard Perry-Pool/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 25: Michael Brown, Sr., father of Michael Brown holding young girl, heads into Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church for the funeral of his son on Monday, August 25, 2014, in St. Louis, MO. Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African American male, was fatally gunned down by a White police officer, Darren Wilson, on August 9 in Ferguson, MO. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 25: Guests wait in line to enter the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church for the funeral of Michael Brown on August 25, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri. Michael Brown, an 18 year-old unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the nearby town of Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. His death caused several days of violent protests along with rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 25: Lesley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown, walks from her son's grave following a service at Saint Peters Cemetery on August 25, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri. Michael Brown, an 18 year-old unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the nearby town of Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. His death caused several days of violent protests along with rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 25: A hearse sits in front of the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church for the funeral of Michael Brown on August 25, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri. Michael Brown, an 18 year-old unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the nearby town of Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. His death caused several days of violent protests along with rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 25: Guests wait in line to enter the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church for the funeral of Michael Brown on August 25, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri. Michael Brown, an 18 year-old unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the nearby town of Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. His death caused several days of violent protests along with rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 25: A family member wearing a shirt bearing a photo of Michael Brown, heads into Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church for the funeral of Michael Brown on Monday, August 25, 2014, in St. Louis, MO. Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African American male, was fatally gunned down by a White police officer, Darren Wilson, on August 9 in Ferguson, MO. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
The funeral procession for Michael Brown heads to the St. Peters Cemetery in Normandy, Mo., Monday, Aug. 25, 2014. Brown, who is black, was unarmed when he was shot in Ferguson, Mo., Aug. 9 by Officer Darren Wilson, who is white. Protesters took to the streets of the St. Louis suburb night after night, calling for change and drawing national attention to issues surrounding race and policing. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 25: Guests wait in line to enter the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church for the funeral of Michael Brown on August 25, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri. Michael Brown, an 18 year-old unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the nearby town of Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. His death caused several days of violent protests along with rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FOR USE AS DESIRED, YEAR END PHOTOS - FILE - Michael Brown Sr. yells out as the casket is lowered during the funeral service for his son Michael Brown in Normandy, Mo., Monday, Aug. 25, 2014. Hundreds of people gathered to say goodbye to Michael Brown, the 18-year-old shot and killed Aug. 9 in a confrontation with a police officer that fueled almost two weeks of street protests. (AP Photo/New York Times, Richard Perry, File Pool)
ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 25: Rev. Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson touch the casket during the funeral for Michael Brown at St. Peters Cemetery on August 25, 2014 in St. Louis Missouri. Michael Brown, an 18 year-old unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the nearby town of Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. His death caused several days of violent protests along with rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Richard Perry-Pool/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 25: Under a crush of mourners and media the remains of Michael Brown are loaded into a hearse following his funeral services at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church on August 25, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri. Michael Brown, an 18 year-old unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the nearby town of Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. His death caused several days of violent protests along with rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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Family and friends recall a young man built like a lineman - 6-foot-3, nearly 300 pounds - with a gentle, joking manner. An aspiring rapper who dubbed himself 'Big Mike.' A fan of computer games, Lil Wayne, Drake, the movie, "Grown Ups 2" and the TV show, "The Family Guy." A kid who was good at fixing things. A struggling student who buckled down to finish his courses, don his green graduation gown with red sash and cross the stage in August to pick up his diploma.

"My fondest memory of Mike is seeing a big kid coming in with a smile on his face, his headphones on and a big can of iced tea ... and say, 'Hey, Coach K, What's going on? .... What do you need me to do this morning?'" recalls Charlie Kennedy, a Normandy High School health and physical education teacher. He says Brown was the kind of kid who'd hold court with "four or five kids around him, cutting up and having a good time."

Kennedy became acquainted with Brown while running a credit recovery program the young man was enrolled in that allowed him to catch up so he could graduate with his class. Brown, he says, could be led astray by kids who were bad influences but by spring, he became focused on getting his degree.

Kennedy also would bring in recording equipment Brown could use for rapping - he wanted to perform and learn a trade to help support himself. "His biggest goal was to be part of something," the teacher adds. "He didn't like not knowing where to fit in life. ... He was kind-hearted, a little kid in a big body. He was intimidating looking, but I don't think he ever was disrespectful to me."

Brown loved music even as a young child. Ophelia Troupe, his art teacher for five years in elementary school, remembers a reserved, polite little boy - he'd always respond 'yes ma'am' or no ma'am.' He kept to himself but lit up when she'd play her son's beats in class as a reward if the students behaved.

"Michael was the one to say, "Be quiet so Ms. Troupe can play the beats,'" she recalls.

Troupe hadn't seen Brown for several years until they crossed paths at his high school graduation. After the ceremony, they hugged and he told her he'd like to be a rapper and asked if her son would work with him.

Slightly more than a week later, Brown was shot while walking down the street with a friend. Police have said a scuffle broke out with Officer Darren Wilson after he asked the two young men to move. Some witnesses have reported seeing Brown's arms in the air - an act of surrender. An autopsy concluded he'd been shot at least six times.

Ferguson police identified Wilson at the same time they released a video of an alleged theft showing Brown, accompanied by his friend, snatch some cigars in a convenience store just minutes before he was killed. In the video, Brown is shown grabbing a clerk by the shirt and forcefully pushing him into a display rack.

Brown's family angrily denounced that video as character assassination.

They've portrayed Brown as "a gentle giant," who liked to post photos on his Facebook page of himself with young relatives, a kid who tried football his sophomore year but abandoned the idea before his first game, fearing he might hurt someone.

"He was funny, silly," his father, Michael Brown Sr., recently said. "Any problems that were going on or any situation - there wasn't nothing he couldn't solve. He'd bring people together."

Tim Sneed, a 23-year-old neighbor of Brown's grandmother, says the young man was so low-key he seemed almost invisible. "When he came to my house you wouldn't even notice he was there," he says. "That's how quiet he was."

Brown had been staying at the apartment of his grandmother, Desuirea Harris, this summer. She said Brown was excited about his future.

"My grandson never even got into a fight," she says. "He was just looking forward to getting on with his life. He was on his way."

Brown was preparing to attend Vatterott College, where he planned to study to become a heating and air conditioning technician.

Kennedy, his teacher, says Brown had to break free from being around kids who "caused him to be in the wrong place at the wrong time a lot of times. .... He had been around too many thugs."

After the two had many talks, Kennedy says, Brown became more serious and was the first one at school at 7 a.m. "Mike was getting ready to do something with his life," he adds.

As friends and family now prepare for Brown's funeral, a memorial stands on Canfield Drive at the site of the shooting. A sign reads: "Hands Up, Don't Shoot, Aug. 9, 2014, RIP Michael Brown."

Brown's great uncle, pastor Charles Ewing, who will deliver the eulogy, remembers a conversation he had with his nephew.

"He said, 'One day the whole world is going to know my name.' Isn't that something? Not knowing that this was going to happen, and that's what touched me - 'the whole world will know my name.' "

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