Family, friends mourn Ellison at student’s funeral

Joanna Dornfeld

Hundreds gathered Monday in Barron, Wis., to celebrate the life of James Ellison, a University mortuary science senior shot and killed Feb. 5

Family and friends spilled out of the Barron Area Community Center auditorium and into the gymnasium to remember Ellison and mourn his death.

The family initially planned to hold the funeral in its home parish but realized it would not hold the hundreds of mourners.

Ellison’s parents, siblings and girlfriend filed into the auditorium as the service was about to begin, leaning on one another for support and touching the casket as they passed.

A pianist played “Jesus Loves Me” as family and friends walked by the casket. In the hallway outside, other mourners looked at Ellison’s childhood pictures and offered each other comfort.

One red candle glowed on the auditorium stage among hundreds of flowers as the pastor read Bible verses selected by Ellison’s family.

Ellison’s mother Sally thanked those who waited more than two hours in the cold Sunday night to attend Ellison’s visitation.

“Even if one of you Ö leave here knowing that Jesus died for us personally Ö then James Ellison did not die in vain,” Sally Ellison said.

Ellison, 22, was killed in the O’Connell Family Funeral Home in Hudson, Wis., where he was interning. The funeral home owner, Dan O’Connell was also killed. O’Connell’s funeral was Saturday.

The auditorium was packed Monday with people from all parts of Ellison’s life, including Barron residents and former classmates from the University of Wisconsin at River Falls, where Ellison spent his first two years of college.

Approximately 50 University mortuary science students and faculty attended the service, adorned with maroon and gold ribbons. The group chartered a bus from Minneapolis to Barron.

Members of Ellison’s immediate family shared memories about him and feelings about their loss.

Arnold Ellison, Ellison’s grandfather, shared a poem about how much Ellison meant to him.

“You tiptoed right into my heart / You own my heart dear James, / Dear James, you’ll always be the whole world to me,” Arnold said.

Ellison’s brother Jordan, 20, spoke about how Ellison loved talking to people.

“He could sell ice to an Eskimo,” he said.

Jordan also remembered spending time with his brother and said he would miss those times most.

“James, I know that you are in heaven now watching over us,” he said.

Sally Ellison talked about her son’s passion for mortuary service.

“He was proud of the things he was doing, helping people at the worst time of their lives,” she said.

Sally lamented she had not gotten to know O’Connell better before his death but said she was glad he had mentored her son.

“They were like two peas in a pod,” she said, “that same idiotic sense of humor.”

Sally told the gathered mourners the family was finding solace in Ellison’s strong belief in God.

As Ellison’s and O’Connell’s families and friends mourned, the Hudson Police Department continued its investigation into the double homicide.

“We are looking at several leads right now,” said Hudson police Sgt. Marty Jensen.

Police have no concrete suspects but are following up on leads from community members.

“We’ve been getting lots of phone calls everyday,” Jensen said.

Police are continuing to interview family members and anyone with any information regarding the men’s deaths.

Police released descriptions of vehicles seen near the funeral home on Feb. 5.

The University’s mortuary science department created a memorial table for Ellison in its office, located at A275 Mayo Memorial Building.

The table is adorned with pictures, candles and objects to remember Ellison.

The department invited University faculty, staff and students to come and sign a card for Ellison’s family and share about his life.

 

Joanna Dornfeld welcomes comments at [email protected]