Hometown honors Michael Jackson

Gary, Ind., event featured performances by local singers

GARY, Ind. -- Thousands of Michael Jackson fans flocked Friday to the city where he spent the first 11 years of his life for a memorial celebration for the King of Pop.

"I couldn't get tickets to the L.A. service, so I figured I'd do the next best thing and pay my respects here in Gary," said Greg Packer of Hungtington, N.Y., a 45-year-old retired highway maintenance worker, who lined up outside Gary's minor league baseball park ahead of Friday's event. "I wanted to experience this live with other Michael Jackson fans."

Jackson's father, Joe Jackson, and the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson were expected to attend the two-hour event, which was to feature area singers performing Jackson tunes, video tributes and a question-and-answer session with some of Jackson's former neighbors and teachers. An hour before the event started, about 4,000 fans were already at the Steel Yard ballpark, about 2.5 miles from Jackson's boyhood home.

Jesse Jackson said during a news conference before the service that he hopes the pop star's life can provide inspiration to the children of Gary.

"I want young people in Gary not to just dance like Michael, you may never be able to achieve that, but study like Michael. Be focused like Michael. Be disciplined like Michael. Get the best of your gifts like Michael," he said.

Ashley Huizar, 17, of nearby Portage, said she was happy to attend Friday's event after trying unsuccessfully to get tickets to Tuesday's service at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

"I just love Michael. I've loved Michael since I was 2 years old. I grew up dancing to his music in the living room. He's just an amazing artist," she said.

Peter Mata, 33, a bill collector from Streator, Ill., was first in line at the ballpark. He drove 100 miles with his 14-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son and arrived on Thursday night.

"I just had to come. It's Michael Jackson," he said.

Jackson stopped at the Gary baseball stadium during a trip in 2003, the only time he returned to his hometown after he hit it big.

The Jacksons moved from Gary, located 30 miles southeast of Chicago, after the Jackson 5 recorded their first album in 1969. Streams of fans have visited the Jacksons' former two-bedroom home in Gary since the pop star's death last month.
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