Friends and family gathered at East Side Christian Church Monday evening to celebrate the life of Nicholas Mathew, who was found dead in his apartment on Christmas Eve.
The sanctuary at his memorial service filled with visitors so quickly, ushers scrambled to arrange rows of chairs in the entryway.
Even then, some people had to stand.
Nicholas Mathew’s older sister Jill Gibson said the turnout is a testament to the many lives her brother touched.
That was the theme for the evening, as nieces, nephews and friends shared stories about his life and "loose cannon" personality.
One story in particular stands out.
Gibson and her sister Heather Finn told me about their younger brother’s courageous fight with HIV.
“We thought we were going to lose him in 2007, his T-Cell count was two," Finn said. "They don't even know how he walked in the hospital. To overcome that and, then you know..."
Gibson chimed in to finish her sentence.
"Someone to play God and take his life," Gibson said. "You didn't just kill some random person, he had a family. ”
The service was punctuated with dashes of his personality – purple decorations and a photo slideshow that drew laughter. Family and friends told stories about how he was, “one heck of a momma’s boy” and a strong advocate for gay rights.
The minister, Linda Parker, mentioned the brutal circumstances surrounding his death on Christmas Eve.
“We really cannot understand the violence that people do, and we pray there will be some kind of justice," Parker said. " So family and friends of Nico Mathew, I want you to continue to share your stories. To hold each other, to cry and laugh, and celebrate this life that touched each of us in a special way. ”
After the sermon, the family, all donning purple, released balloons in the sky, alongside their prayers to Nicholas.