Memphis rapper Mario Mims, known as "Yo Gotti," and about 2,000 other mourners packed the Cannon Center performance hall Downtown on Thursday to honor the memory of a man who was gunned down in the daytime in front of witnesses.
Some made shrill cries and others nearly passed out while viewing father-of-three Cecil D'Wayne "C-Baby" Tuggle, 32, of Cordova, in an ivory casket.
Tuggle was shot outside Universal Auto Body and Kustoms, a North Memphis business he co-owned on Dec. 6. He had been standing on Eva, a side street off Summer Avenue, leaning into an SUV to chat with the driver at about 4 p.m. when a silver Chevrolet Impala drove by and a gunman fired four or five shots, according to witnesses.
Tuggle collapsed and died in the street next to his shop. About 200 people lingered on sidewalks and in the parking lot of area businesses to watch as Memphis police blocked off the area and searched for clues.
The case remains under investigation, with several law enforcement sources saying they believe it could be a retaliation killing. They say Tuggle — who had been arrested more than a dozen times for various crimes, including drug trafficking, robbery and gun charges — associated with members of one of the city's largest and most violent homegrown gangs, Memphis Mob.
Tuggle, a North Memphis native, was charged with a 2004 double shooting that killed one man and wounded another during an apparent dispute over a drug theft. Those charges later were dropped due to a lack of evidence, court records show.
A group of inmates dressed in clothes labeled "SCDC," for Shelby County Department of Corrections, came to pay their respects.
Friends said Tuggle had turned his life around.
Law enforcement officers were warned there could be more bloodshed at the memorial service and responded by sending undercover officers and patrol cars to guard the center's perimeter. The Shelby County Sheriff's Office positioned a "sky cop," which has a video camera mounted on an antenna, on Front Street. Officials said they were concerned a drive-by shooter could spray the center from Front Street, which has quick access to interstates leading out of town.
Funeral director Joe Ford, who oversaw the Christian service, said he didn't know about the heightened security concerns, but he praised police for directing the large crowd.
"They did their job, but stayed their distance," he said.
Inside the performance hall, white carnations formed the letters "C-BABY" and "MIMS" in large flower sprays on the stage behind the casket.
Mims, one of the city's best known rappers, didn't walk on stage, but he spoke into a microphone at the end of the service to say how close he was to Tuggle, who was 4-foot-8.
"You were the littlest person with the biggest heart," said Mims, who called the victim his best friend, refuting rumors the two had become estranged.
"You were not afraid to live and you weren't afraid to die."
Mims said Tuggle told him not to cry if he died and to stand his casket upright so no one would look down on him, even in death. "We were so close, I tried," he said.
Mims said when he began to gain fame, some of his friends seemed to change — but Tuggle remained loyal.
The crowd laughed when Mims told about taking the stage during one performance and finding that Tuggle, known for his sense of humor, had grabbed a microphone and taken off his shirt to launch into his own performance. Mims said: "You always stayed the same, Shorty."