FORT MYERS, Fla. - The sanctuary of McGregor Baptist Church was a sea of purple Thursday, as hundreds joined together in a last goodbye to Jesse Watlington.
"He was a quiet young boy, small for peer standards, but Jesse's got that electric, magnanimous smile you can't forget," said Dr. Richard Powell, Watlington's family's pastor and spokesperson.
Family paid their respects to the middle-schooler, surrounded by his classmates, teammates, and other mourners.
Watlington, 11, died after being struck in the heart by lightning last week while walking to football practice.
"There's been an entire community pouring out heart and appreciation for a family going through a difficult time," Powell said.
The boy's parents chose not to speak at the service, instead, selecting others to read what they had written.
"In memory of Jesse, my prayer now is that we don't fall back into our daily lives and forget to pray and make a difference for somebody else. Keep on loving. Keep on smiling, like Jesse did. You may touch the life of someone you never even met," said a speaker at the service, reading a message Watlington's mother had prepared.
That wish, has already come true, as the boy's story has spread through social media around the world, garnering thoughts and prayers from all over.
As loved ones struggle to move on, Watlington's teammates plan to take to the field once again, playing the next 2 football games in his honor. They will retire his #51 jersey, but not his memory.
"We're going to just do all we can to preserve the memory of a boy who's faith was strong, smile was endearing, and who's now with the Lord in Heaven," said Powell.
Several organizations are collecting money on behalf of the Watlington family. Donations can be sent to "Jesse's fund" at McGregor Baptist Church. A non-profit in the family's neighborhood, Gateway Gives, is also raising money.