Memorial for Aamir Griffin

People gather Monday around a memorial on a basketball court in Queens where Aamir Griffin, 14, was fatally shot. Police said a bullet fired at another person several blocks away hit Aamir instead. — Stephanie Keith/The New York Times

NEW YORK — He was a 14-year-old boy playing basketball at dusk before curfew. Just another night, on his usual court, focused on the game he envisioned as his future.

Then came the gunshots, splintering the fall air. From 100 yards down the block, a bullet sailed across a parking lot, slipped through a fence and struck the teenager — a neighborhood jewel whom everyone knew — Aamir Griffin.

A boy and a dream crumpled to the concrete. Not the target, but the victim.

Some would chalk it up to wrong place, wrong time. But Aamir had been where he was meant to be: outside his apartment building in Jamaica, Queens, shooting hoops, staying far from the trouble that had lured away so many of his peers.

“Aamir was not like these little kids out here running around and trying to gangbang for fun,” said his friend Isis Eastman, 16. “Aamir just played ball. That’s all he did.”

Crime is at an all-time low across New York City, dropping to levels not seen for nearly seven decades. But gun violence still flares in some pockets, shattering worlds and igniting despair. Officials have attributed recent bursts to gang conflicts.

Northern Brooklyn has seen a rise in shootings this year, with six in one weekend alone. So have several precincts in Manhattan and Queens. The 113th Precinct, where Aamir was killed Saturday, has had more than 20 shootings this year, compared with 13 for the same period in 2018.

Police officials acknowledge the uptick and say they plan to deploy extra resources to certain areas and create “safe corridors” for students going to and from school.

Two days after Aamir’s death, a 16-year-old girl in Jamaica was struck in the arm by a stray bullet when a fight erupted during dismissal at New Dawn Charter High School II.

The episodes are believed to be related.

Chief of Detectives Dermot F. Shea said the shootings appeared to stem from a feud between two gangs. “These are young kids with guns,” he said. “Sometimes they forget what they were fighting for.”

A male teenager was questioned Tuesday about both shootings but not charged in them, Shea said. Instead, he was arrested on an unrelated robbery charge.

Frustrated residents are unable to reconcile such brazen acts with the heavy police presence in their neighborhood. Next to the basketball court where Aamir was shot is a security camera. Across the street, a Police Department watchtower.

The shootings are a symptom of the dearth of resources for youth, said Erica Ford, an area activist who founded LIFE Camp, a nonprofit that aims to stem gun violence.

“There are pockets with no investments in certain neighborhoods,” Ford said. “There is nothing for these kids to do. It’s like a third-world country.”

But Aamir was an outlier, a boy who had found his calling and built his life around it. He had become one of the brightest fixtures in his corner of Jamaica, a tight-knit community where neighbors watch out for one another.

They knew his grin, the one he flashed that made his deep-set dimples appear. Playful and lighthearted, he had one of those belly laughs, so infectious, even if you didn’t know what was funny. He was charismatic, easy to be around, but took care to show others respect. When he stopped by the local convenience store to order a chopped cheese with jalapeños, he would offer to help the owner stack the shelves.

“He was nothing but joy,” said his friend Daja, 15, who declined to give her surname.

Aamir liked to dance and play video games. But he defined himself through basketball.

He had been a chubby child, round cheeks, short stature. It didn’t matter. He played as if he were tall and lithe, always working drills, challenging friends, entering tournaments. He walked around with a basketball tucked in the crook of his arm, and passersby knew to ask him about his game. He idolized Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry.

The love of the sport had come from his father. The fire that drove him was all his.

“He was more determined than all of us,” his friend Billy Jeanfrancois, 14, said. “He was like, ‘I’m going to lose and come back stronger.’ ”

Aamir was thrilled to make his middle school team. When they lost their first game, he cried. At a matchup later in the season, the team was again close to defeat.

“Then Aamir started draining threes,” recalled Shamel McCallum, 14, who lives in the same public housing complex as Aamir did. “He was the clutch player.”

By then, Aamir had slimmed down and sprouted to nearly 6 feet.

He applied and got into Benjamin N. Cardozo High School, wanting to learn from its storied coach, Ron Naclerio.

“He was a sponge, he wanted to work,” Naclerio said. “He really had no ego. Kids today that are good, you can see a bravado like, ‘I’m the bomb, I’m the best.’ They’ll put stuff on Facebook or their social media like they’re the next LeBron. He was not like that at all.”

Aamir was being prepped to be the shooting guard for the junior varsity team. He kept up his grades so he could stay eligible. He spoke often about the NBA.

“He had tunnel vision,” his stepfather, Larry Hawkins, said. “It’s just so rare at that age. He already had his mind made up.”

If the goal of going pro was too lofty, too impractical, no one told him. And he could make people believe.

They liked how basketball centered him. He earned the nickname “Buddy,” because of his welcoming demeanor and how he enjoyed teaching others to play. If you were looking for a game, you only had to track down Aamir.

“We definitely had big dreams for him, but for him to be a good person was overall the best thing,” said Shaun Lilly, 35, the fiancé of Aamir’s aunt. “That’s what it really was about at the end of the day.”

Aamir had two older sisters and a younger brother and lived in the Baisley Park Houses with his stepfather and his mother, Shanequa Griffin.

“He was passionate, he was amazing, he was great — he was everything a mother could ask for in a kid,” Griffin said.

Aamir would tell her that once he became a star, he was going to buy her a house and a flashy car.

“He used to always say, ‘Ma, you’re my best friend,’ ” she said.

On Saturday, Aamir had risen early to warm up for a tournament. He led his team to a victory by hitting a last-minute 3-pointer.

When he arrived home, he headed to the court to play with his friends. Just after 8 p.m., several shots were fired near the intersection of Foch Boulevard and Long Street, the police said.

Aamir slumped to the ground with a bullet in his torso. He was taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Surveillance video showed two people fleeing the area, one in a red hooded sweatshirt, the other in dark clothing.

On Monday afternoon, community members flocked to that same blue-gray court, the crowd increasing with each hour as the temperature dropped. They were friends and neighbors who had no words to heal a family broken by violence. But they wanted to be near to help bear the weight of the loss. Aamir had been theirs, too.

Items were added to the memorial of flowers and teddy bears and balloons. “Rest easy young king, you’re too good to be forgotten,” read a message on a poster with Aamir’s photo.

On the ground, a giant heart had been created with candles. Within it, a logo written for a brilliant boy: “E4A.” Everything for Aamir.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.