Jackson's hometown set for tribute

By AFP

June 18, 2010 Updated Jul 10, 2009 at 7:11 PM EDT

Michael Jackson's family prepared Friday to attend a memorial service in his hometown of Gary, Indiana, as investigators said they could not definitely rule out homicide in his death.

Hours before the gates at the city's baseball stadium were to open for a hometown tribute to the King of Pop, fans had gathered beneath a large black banner picturing Jackson over the words "Never can say goodbye."

Those lyrics from a Jackson 5 hit seemed to sum up the predicament of millions of fans across the United States in the two weeks since the pop icon's mysterious death on June 25.

Debbie Evergerd, 50, had driven more than 600 miles (900 kilometers) to Gary after working the graveyard shift at a Kansas factory.

"His music, it's just great," Evergerd said through tears as a soft rain fell. "And now people have been able to overlook his problems and focus on his genius and his music."

Fans were eagerly anticipating an appearance by Jackson's father, Joe Jackson, which had been promised by Gary Mayor Rudy Clay. And civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, who has visited Gary on many occasions, was also expected.

But amid the anticipation of a second, more intimate memorial after Tuesday's star-studded ceremony in Los Angeles, mystery still surrounded the circumstances of Jackson's death and his final resting place.

Coroners have called for any records held by Jackson's many doctors to be presented, "including radiology and psychiatric records," the Los Angeles Times reported.

Los Angeles police chief Bill Bratton said his department was looking into Jackson's history of prescription drug use, as well as the doctors that he had seen over the years.

"Are we dealing with homicide? Are we dealing with an accidental overdose? What are we dealing with? So as we are standing here speaking, I can tell you, I don't have that information," Bratton told CNN.

Father Joe Jackson told ABC News he was suspicious of the circumstances surrounding his son's death.

"I do believe it was foul play," he said. "I do believe that. Yes."

The Jackson family has also so far not revealed where the pop icon is to be buried, or where his body has been placed since it was displayed in a gold-plated coffin at center stage at the Staples Center memorial.

The New York Daily Post claimed Friday that the body was stored in crypt at the Forest Lawn cemetery which is owned by Motown founder Berry Gordy.

Gordy paid moving tribute to Jackson at the public memorial watched by millions after Jackson's family and friends held a private service at the holly Hills cemetery.

The unconfirmed report came as Fox News said there was feuding in the Jackson family over where his final resting place should be.

Joe Jackson was still pushing for his son to be buried at the Neverland complex, but wife, Katherine, bitterly opposed the idea after Michael Jackson fled his luxury ranch in 2005 on being acquitted of child abuse, saying he never wanted to return.

But on Friday, Gary, a city of 100,000 in northern Indiana seemed determined to give its native son a fitting send-off, some 40 years after Michael Jackson and his family left the hard-luck steel town behind.

"Our love for Michael has been deep," said mayor Clay. "It?s still deep."

At the tiny white Gary home where the Jackson family of 11 had lived until Michael was 11, the crowds were as large as those the day after he died.

Fans approached the home at 2300 Jackson Street with a reverential hush, surveying the hundreds of Teddy bears, flowers, and votive candles laid on the front lawn, while the strains of "Billie Jean" played from one of the nearby vendor's tents.

Renee Sperka had been here since the day after Jackson's death. She started decorating a small tree near the house, which is now covered with medals, rosaries, stuffed animals and T-shirts signed by Jackson devotees.

"I got mad every time I heard all the garbage about him from CNN and from other people," the 50-year-old said. "His music was so great and the dancing too."

Some also bemoaned the fact their children only knew Jackson as a kind of show business freak, and not the musical genius he once was.

"My kids, they knew his music before they knew who it was playing it," said Tywum Johnson, 31, of his five children ages five to 14. "Once they found out who it was singing it, they didn't like it anymore."




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