Yet another innocent bystander caught a fatal bullet fired by feuding shooters, aiming recklessly on a warm spring night. And now, New York City mourns the loss of Darius Lee, a son, student and star college basketball player at Houston Baptist University. The 21-year-old was killed in a Sunday-to-Monday overnight shooting that wounded eight others at a gathering on East 139th Street and 5th Avenue.
As families celebrated the Father’s Day/Juneteenth three-day weekend during a local cookout, the sudden sound of random gun fire erupted in Harlem early into Monday (June 19/20) morning disrupted festivities, causing nine people to be shot, one fatally.
All eight victims, six men and two women—ranging from 21-42 years-old—are expected to
survive. But, Darius Lee, 21, was shot in the chest and rushed to the Bronx’s Lincoln Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Four other victims were taken from the scene by EMS and treated at Harlem Hospital, while four other wounded victims fled the scene and later also checked into Harlem Hospital. Police said the gun violence was sparked at approximately 12:36 a.m., June 20 along the Harlem River Drive footpath, near 139th Street and 5th Avenue. Injuries included those to the torso, back, legs and arms.
Police recovered a pistol at the scene, and said over 150 rounds were fired in what they believe was a battle between “two heavily armed groups” after a dispute sparked the gun feud. They’re still looking at nearby surveillance footage for possible clues.
The shooters had still not been apprehended by press time.
A rising senior, Lee was set to graduate with a bachelor in arts in kinesiology with a specialization in sports management this upcoming December. He was back in town from Texas for summer break, and spent most of the time at home, according to family. Just days before his death, Lee was at his old team gym at St. Raymond High School for Boys working with current players, said the school’s principal Judith Carew. Many local kids saw Lee as a role model.
“I had a little boy come up to me yesterday and tapped my shoulder, he was standing over the picture [of Darius] we have up in front of the building,” said Taren Weaver, Lee’s mother. “And he pointed to the picture and he was like ‘do you miss him? Because I miss him.’ It broke my heart to hear him say that.”
“The unfortunate mass shooting and homicide of Darius Lee in Harlem this week only elevates the importance of our task force’s convening for which I co-chair with Deputy Mayor Sheena Wright,” said newly appointed gun violence czar A.T. Mitchell.
“We as a city have our work cut out for us this summer. I can only assure you all that we will be doing our very best to reduce the gun-related shooting incidents block by block. Our plans involve using every New Yorker who is willing to be a human resource.”
“The emboldened individuals responsible for this are exactly who our officers are
battling everyday to make our city safer,” stated NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell. “And while we’re making some headway against violence, we still have a lot of work to do, but we need help along the criminal justice system.”
Last season, Lee led the Houston Baptist Huskies in points, rebounds and assists, while averaging the seventh most steals per game in the entire NCAA. He was the university’s Male Student-Athlete of the Year and second team all-conference. It was his year two with HBU—Lee took the long path to a Division I basketball scholarship, initially plying his craft at SUNY Sullivan in Loch Sheldrake, N.Y. And Weaver went to every one of those games, from community college to playing against No. 5 ranked Texas. But long before he filled into his 6-foot-6-inch frame, Lee was a chubby kid known as “Juicy” who would give every last cent to anyone who asked.
“My baby was too perfect for the world,” said Weaver.
Well-liked by all, say his family and friends, Lee was largely concerned just with basketball, video games and school. And he never changed—even as the star basketball player at HBU, Lee never tried to be the big man on campus. He remained close to his childhood friends, and his roommate said he knew how to cook almost anything and had no problem demonstrating by feeding those who were hungry. According to his mother, Lee was introverted but always smiling.
“I would always tease him about school, like ‘you can’t just answer questions with just a one-word answer: to give a full sentence,’ and he always laughed,” said Weaver, laughing herself. “It was so hard for him to do essays because he’s a person of few words. I said you have to do an essay, not a paragraph.”
Lee’s high school basketball coach, Christopher Williams, fondly recalled him as a
motivated teen with big ambitions.
“He was just full of energy and life, and positive vibes,” Williams recalled. “He’s
someone everybody would root for. What the hell is going on in Harlem, our city, for a kid to be home from college to be close with his family and friends, this is beyond a tragedy.”
Local leaders are rallying around Lee’s family. Jackie Rowe-Adams, the founder of Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E. who lost two of her children to gun violence, is providing bereavement counseling for the family and friends.
“The pain [of losing a son] was unbearable,” said Rowe-Adams. “So I know what it means to this family right now and what they’re going through, and it’s hurting me.”
On Monday evening, Street Corner Resources held a rapid response gathering where the shooting happened to stand against gun violence and pray for Lee, who was deeply rooted in his faith. The nonprofit also created a banner for local youth to write messages to Lee. Before it was fully hung up, every space was filled with well-wishes and condolences.
“Did you see how fast we put that banner up?” said Street Corner Resources founder Iesha Sekou. “Everybody was writing.”
She soon had her program manager order another blank banner.
Sekou, who was coincidentally at the hospital on Monday when many of the victims from the shooting were brought in, says a young man at the gathering tried saving Lee’s life by tying his shirt to the gunshot wound. According to Weaver, her son was still alive when she found him and called for an ambulance. As of Wednesday, the NYPD is still searching for the killer. Witnesses told CBS News they heard “around 40 to 50” shots.
Given the number of victims, the incident is technically considered a “mass shooting.” But unlike Buffalo or Uvalde, the conversation is not about automatic weapons—a firearm was recovered on the scene. Rather, it’s another tragedy stemming from guns on the street here in New York City.
While the South-to-North Iron Pipeline remains in full effect, and ghost guns are being made in un-calculated numbers, Sekou says stricter background checks on purchases from out-of-state gun shows would reduce the number of firearms coming into the city. And she recommends “no questions asked” buyback programs for parents who catch their children with a weapon but fear getting police involved. Rowe-Adams argued for stricter measures, including more serious punishments for gun trafficking. For Weaver, she has one simple request:
“One of my girlfriends lost her child the same way, a year before one of my cousins lost her’s the same way—these kids did not deserve this, they were good kids,” said Weaver. “We’ve got to get the guns off the streets…we’ve got to get the guns off the streets.”
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w