LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was only 39 when he was assassinated. His death sparked riots in the streets of America and the world witnessed the loss of a civil rights icon.
During the chaos, King's family had to privately deal with the excruciating loss while remaining in the public eye.
As ABC7 continues to honor the life of King as part of our FACEism series, in this story, a family member reflects on his assassination and describes what that moment was like through her own personal recollection, including "the phone call."
"There was the news that Uncle Martin had been shot," she recalled. "My sister immediately started screaming."
Donzaleigh Abernathy was only 10 years old when the phone rang.
Her father, Ralph Abernathy, was instrumental in orchestrating the Civil Rights movement. For a decade, Ralph and King were partners. They were inseparable, fighting for change in a racist world.
On that heartbreaking day, King was standing outside the room he was sharing with Abernathy at the Lorraine motel in Memphis, Tennessee, when a bullet from across the street killed him.
Abernathy was there, but was completely hopeless.
Back at home in Montgomery, Alabama, a young Donzaleigh, with her youthful optimism, refused to accept that "Uncle Martin" was gone.
"I remember reassuring them that the Road Runner, the cartoon, 'He'd get back up!' and so it didn't matter if they had shot Uncle Martin, he's going to get back, he was going to be fine."
She recalls how King's wife, Coretta, called Donzaleigh's mother asking to meet her at the airport as soon as she got the news.
"We were out on the tarmac and I saw mother and Aunt Coretta embrace," she said. "The very thing that I would have been telling myself couldn't happen, I knew had happened. I just broke down into sobbing tears."
She remembers seeing a box come out of the back portion of the plane and recalls bursting into tears.
"I just cried. Then we went to the Hanley Brothers Funeral Home and we dropped the body off. The casket was there and it was open and then daddy took me up there. You could see where the cheek had blown off and where they put it together and put the makeup on him. He was hard. He wasn't soft anymore, and I kissed him."
Donzaleigh's deeply personal memories reveal the very human side of loss.
Fame does not diminish the raw pain. Donzaleigh felt every bit of it, and so did her dad, paralyzed with despair.
"He didn't open the curtains. He just was there, quiet in the dark," she said. "We'd bring the food in there to him and he didn't want to say anything. He was so hurt."
King's funeral procession was astounding with 100,000 people participating as the casket was escorted through the streets of Atlanta to his final resting place.
The vast majority had never met King, but believed in what he lived and died for.
For Donzaleigh, King was a dear friend who left her with beautiful lessons and a full heart.
"He wasn't my father but he was my Uncle Martin and I loved him with all my heart and soul," she said.
Watch more episodes of ABC7's FACEism series on your favorite streaming devices, like Roku, FireTV, AppleTV and GoogleTV. Just search "ABC7 Los Angeles."