July 12, 2000 -- — More than 1,500 family members and friends attended a public memorial service today to remember Cory Erving, the 19-year-old son of basketball legend Julius Erving.
Mourners at the 90-minute public service in Kissimmee, Fla., described the teenager as fun-loving and kind-hearted. Cory was discovered July 6 in a car submerged in a retention pond about a mile from the Erving family’s home near Orlando.
The discovery ended a nationwide search for the missing teenager, who had disappeared May 28 after buying bread for the family’s Memorial Day cookout.
As celebrities, family and friends paid their final respects to Cory at Heartland Community Church, the Volusia County Medical Examiner today released information suggesting Cory might have have been using cocaine around the time of his death.
Outpouring of Support
Performer Patti LaBelle sang “The Lord’s Prayer,” and close family friend and long-time Oprah Winfrey boyfriend Stedman Graham deliveredpersonal remarks to more than 1,500 well-wishers, including currentand former NBA players, entertainer Bill Cosby and sportscaster Bob Costas.
“I don’t have to tell you about Cory. You already know he wouldgive you the shirt off his back … and he didn’t have mean bone inhis body,” Graham said.
“We know he was trying to find himself as many young people do at that age.”
Three friends recalled him as a prankster who loved to playpractical jokes on friends and teachers at school. Oldest brotherCheo, 27, apologized for sometimes setting a bad example and sisterJazmin, 23, sobbed as she talked about “the only little brother Ihad.”
“I took Cory’s life for granted. I promise I won’t take anyoneelse’s life for granted,” a second brother, Julius III, said.
May Have Used Cocaine
Upon making a nationwide appeal for Cory’s safe return, NBA legend Julius Erving shared information regarding his son’s learning disability and struggle to overcome his drug problem. While the Erving family believed Cory had kicked the habit, preliminary tests today suggested he hadn’t.
A test for cocaine on water in Cory’s bladder was positive, butfurther tests on his liver, lung, heart, kidney, brain and skeletalmuscles are needed before anything can be determined conclusively,said Dr. Thomas Beaver, Volusia County’s medical examiner.
“We’re taking the results of the test with a very large grainof salt,” Beaver said. “The test is not completely reliable andmust be viewed skeptically.”
The test is normally conducted on urine in the bladder but hadto be done by washing the bladder with water since the body had nourine. Decomposition of the body also may have affected the test,he said.
In addition, an autopsy showed that there was no trauma toCory’s body and that Cory likely had been in the retention pondsince the day he disappeared, Beaver said.
However, nothing is conclusive until a report by a forensicpathologist is complete, he said.
Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger said after the teenager’s body was foundit was likely Cory’s death was accidental, although investigatorsaren’t ruling anything out.
Poised Dr. J
“I’ve been awed, really, by the way [the Erving family] has gone through what is really every parent’s worst nightmare,” said Pat Williams, a close friend of the Erving family and the executive vice president of the Orlando Magic.
“Julius has been a rock through it. … He’s been very poised through it all.”
Touched by the response of central Florida during the search forCory, Julius Erving and his wife, Turquoise, opened today’sservice to the public. A reception followed in an adjacentgymnasium.
Among the celebrities attending were current and former NBAplayers and executives Rod Thorn, Billy Cunningham, Pat Croce,Moses Malone, Maurice Cheeks, Clyde Drexler, Darrell Armstrong,Corey Maggette, Ben Wallace, Gerald Henderson, Artis Gilmore andJack Givens.
ABCNEWS Radio and The Associated Press contributed to this report.