AKRON, Ohio — Jayland Walker had dreams of starting his own business, and at one time in his life he considered becoming a semi-professional wrestler. But those dreams came to an abrupt end after he was fatally shot June 27 after fleeing police during a traffic stop in Akron, Ohio.
Walker was a "soft-spoken" and "funny" young man, his family said. Whenever he entered a room, he greeted his relatives with hugs and kisses and "I love yous."
"Like any other kid, he played basketball, wrestled, he liked music, being around family and friends," Walker’s cousin Roddray Walker said Wednesday.
Walker took up wrestling when he was young. At his alma mater, Buchtel High School in Akron, he was a member of the wrestling team. He used to tell his family that if he ever went semi-pro, he wanted to use the stage name "Stringbean," a funny nod to his lanky physique.
"With Jayland you didn't always know if he was joking or not," said his cousin Robin Elerick, who recounted the wrestling story at Walker's funeral Wednesday. "We laughed it off, but that's kind of who Jayland was. … He was always looking to make you smile. And that's one of the things we loved most about him."
He was also hard-working and ambitious. Walker, a DoorDash driver, hoped to run his own delivery business one day, Roddray Walker said.
Walker, 25, was in the process of buying a home in Akron and was planning a wedding with his fiancee, Jaymeisha Beasley, when she was killed in a car accident in May.
The untimely death devastated Walker, his family said.
He was a 'leader' and always had words of wisdom
Elerick said Walker had "the biggest heart" and remembered him as being "sweet and so authentically genuine."
Those sentiments were echoed by Brian Turner, who was a dean of students at Buchtel when Walker attended. Turner said Walker never got in trouble.
"Jayland never came to my office for as much as a tardy, let alone a flick or write-up for suspension," Turner recalled. "He was the type of student that you really want. If we had a whole building full of Jaylands back at that time, my job would have been easy. He was one of the few young men who I really enjoyed having in the building."
Turner said Walker was one of the students he remembered because he was always "nice, respectful and pleasant." Turner said Walker was looked at as a "leader with his friends because he was … doing all the right things."
Dupri Whatley, Walker's best friend, told mourners at the funeral that if it wasn't for Walker's guidance and words of wisdom, "I probably wouldn’t be where I'm at now.
"I used to call Jayland almost all the time, and I can't call him anymore. This is really hard for me," Whatley said, breaking down in tears.
Whatley said he and Walker had been friends "forever" and "grew up wrestling together." The two would play basketball, hang out at Whatley's house and listen to Walker's favorite rappers: Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G. and Jadakiss.
"I don't want anybody to try to make it seem like my best friend was a bad dude because he was not," Walker told the crowd of mourners at the Akron Civic Theatre.
Wedding plans cut short
Walker was only 25, but he had already found the love of his life.
Around the age of 15, he began dating Jaymeisha Beasley, who lived in Akron and attended Kenmore-Garfield High School. The two were inseparable, Beasley's mother, Shalesa Beasley, recalled.
"They had a great relationship. They never broke up. It was always just the both of them," she said.
About a year ago, the couple got engaged. When Shalesa Beasley heard the news, it was nothing but excitement because "he was good for my daughter," she said.
The two had just started discussing wedding plans and were in the process of buying a home together when Jaymeisha was killed in a hit-and-run on May 28 on Interstate 71 in Warren County in southwest Ohio. Shalesa Beasley said she was traveling to Kentucky with Jaymeisha and her other daughter, Jazzimine, when a semi-truck rear-ended their van.
Jaymeisha, 27, who was asleep in the back and not wearing a seatbelt, was ejected from the van onto the highway. She died after an oncoming vehicle hit her, Shalesa Beasley said. The Ohio State Highway Patrol could not immediately comment on an arrest.
Walker was 'heartbroken' after death
Jaymeisha's sudden death was hard for everyone who knew her. It left Walker "heartbroken," according to Shalesa Beasley, who said that Walker seemed to be trying to move on with his life.
Walker's sister, Jada Walker, told NBC affiliate WKYC of Cleveland that her brother was trying to push forward and always had "the same attitude with us: you know, reserved, keeping himself busy."
"He was on his own. Him and [Beasley], they were together. Very important to one another and we loved her, too," she said.
Elerick, the cousin, said Walker had been going through a "really, really hard time" the past few weeks. At his funeral, she recalled times when they would just sit quietly "holding hands and crying with each other."
On the night of Walker's death, Akron police tried to pull him over for an alleged traffic violation. Officers had to chase him after Walker failed to stop, according to an Akron Police Department statement. During that pursuit, they "reported a firearm being discharged from the suspect vehicle," police said.
Walker jumped out of his moving vehicle as officers chased him on foot, police said.
Police said Walker's actions "caused the officers to perceive he posed a deadly threat to them.
"In response to this threat, officers discharged their firearms, striking the suspect," according to police. Walker died at the scene.
Eight officers have been placed on paid administrative leave as part of the protocol in a police shooting.
Summit County Medical Examiner Lisa Kohler announced Friday that Walker was shot or grazed 46 times and died of blood loss from his internal injuries. The manner was ruled a homicide, the medical examiner said.
The death sparked protests in Akron and demands for police accountability. Walker's uncle, Tom Addie, urged people to let things unfold.
"Jayland was just a kind soul with a great heart," Addie said at the funeral. "That's what we need to cherish and think about. All this will handle itself. Jayland's at peace now."