Vanessa Byrams may have been born before her younger brother, Malik Baxter, but she still considered him her twin.
“He’s my other half,” she said through tears at the podium before his casket Monday afternoon. “Malik is my best friend. He never had kids, but he left a big impression on my son … he’s gone but he’ll never be forgotten.”
Lance Cpl. Malik Baxter, a 2013 Riverhead High School graduate who died earlier this month after he was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident while stationed in Hawaii, was buried at Calverton National Cemetery Monday afternoon after a funeral at Jefferson Temple Church of God in Christ in Bellport. He was 20.
Lance Cpl. Baxter’s flag-draped casket was carried into the Bellport church by a team of U.S. Marines as an organist performed “Amazing Grace.”
More than 100 friends and family members packed into the church to share their memories of Lance Cpl. Baxter, laughing and applauding as cousins and aunts told stories about the young man’s sense of humor and dedication to those he loved.
“There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for you,” his grandmother Lousandra Baxter said.
“I’m going to miss him,” his brother Devon said, holding back tears.
One mourner sang “I Won’t Complain,” saying the song’s optimistic lyrics fit Lance Cpl. Baxter’s attitude toward life. Many of Lance Cpl. Baxter’s fellow Marines were in attendance, including Cpl. Daniel Pickens.
“As soon as I got the word that he was gone, there was nothing in the world was going to keep me from coming to see him,” he said. “I don’t think there are enough good things I could say about him.
“He was definitely a comedian in his own right,” Cpl. Pickens continued with a smile as the audience laughed. “He would get me so flustered … be he would just give me that look and I couldn’t be mad at him no matter how hard I tried.” He described how the two of them would ride to Waikiki listening to Kendrick Lemar’s song “Sing About Me” and sang a few of the verses.
“This is me singing, Malik,” he said as the mourners clapped. “I love you.”
Pastor Daniel Holohan, who preaches at Community of Christ church in Rocky Point, said he met Lance Cpl. Baxter while he was in uniform at his church some time ago. He was a “dignified” young man, the Rev. Holohan said.
The pastor cited the story of Lazarus and assured the congregants that Lance Cpl. Baxter, who had “accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior,” was not dead but alive through his faith.
“He’s a very special man, and I don’t speak of him in the past tense,” the Rev. Holohan said.
Lance Cpl. Baxter’s casket was carried out of the church and a procession assisted by the Patriot Guard drove under a giant American flag set up by the Yaphank Fire Department on their way to Calverton National Cemetery.
At the grave site, a group of Marines fired off a three-round volley over Lance Cpl. Baxter’s casket and two more took the American flag off the gray casket, gently and carefully folded it into a triangle.
One of the Marines presented it to Ms. Baxter, stood and slowly saluted. Wind-swept rain started pouring down.
As family members and friends filed out from under the tent, one of the mourners walked to the casket while it was being lowered into the ground and began to sob. Mr. and Ms. Baxter, who were walking away, raced back to the gravesite and the three embraced as the sky opened up.
Photo caption: Marines salute the casket of Lance Cpl. Malik Baxter during his burial Monday afternoon.