Aamir Griffin, 14, was the ninth student that Ron Naclerio lost to gun violence in Queens. While some of them were tough guys on the street, the 40-year basketball coach at Cardozo High School in Bayside said Griffin was different.
“His exuberance rubbed a fountain of youth into me,” he said.
This was a familiar theme among educators, students and family members gathered on Monday at the Greater Allen AME Cathedral in St. Albans for Griffin’s funeral. More than 1,000 people jammed into the venerable church to remember the teenager who was shot to death on Oct. 26 at a basketball court in Baisley Park Houses where he lived.
Griffin’s family said all he wanted to do after school was go to the basketball court across from his home and scrimmage with his friends. He wanted to make the junior varsity team at Cardozo High School, where he started as a freshman in September, and made a bee-line for Coach Naclerio in June, saying he was ready to play.
The coach was ready to take him on, having a soft spot for the youngster who was already 6 feet tall and had previously graduated from I.S. 8, where Coach Naclerio first worked doing intervention with young students.
Naclerio delivered a powerful eulogy to an emotional crowd, at times breaking down as he stared into the eyes of Griffin’s mother, Shanequa, and his father, Warnell Wells, whom Naclerio had coached at Bayside back in 1999.
“He had that Magic Johnson smile and he always had respect for everyone,” Naclerio said as he stood next to the coffin.
“He was inconceivably young and there will be no more games this season for Aamir, no varsity, no college degree and no chance to play in the NBA which was his dream,” Naclerio sighed. “I don’t have words to heal this broken family, broken by violence. Reality is very cruel.”
His aunt, Akiba Griffin, was also passionate in speaking about Griffin, saying “his only dream was to someday wear an NBA jersey.
“Instead, he got a bullet to the neck,” she sobbed.
“So many of you are standing with the family and what we need to do is to prevent more situations that has happened to Aamir,” she added. “We have to provide more places for kids to play such as PAL, after school programs, where kids can feel safe and feel welcome.”
Among those attending the funeral were state Attorney General Letitia James, Assemblyman Walter Mosely and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.
Katz entered the church, and got down on her knees in front of the parents. She clasped Aamir’s mother’s hands and spoke to her silently as mourners shuffled past paying their respects to the teen.
“Another young child hit by random gunfire and it happens all too often here in Queens County,” Katz said. “I’m going to work hard every day to reduce gun violence and prosecute gun traffickers, but also find the infrastructure to support those who are working to prevent young people from picking up a gun in the first place. This will take a partnership — we can do better.”
Among those paying respects were about a dozen somber school safety officers, including Sabrina Jefferson and Sheila Martin who got to know Griffin at I.S. 8.
“He was our student at the I.S. 8 for three years and we know the whole family, mom and dad, a typical teenager. He was a great kid,” Jefferson said.
Firefighter Bob Vadaro filed past the coffin and wiped tears from his eyes. He said he has worked in the neighborhood, trying to recruit teens to eventually become a firefighter.
“I grew up on these streets and I played ball here and now, there is just too much sadness,” Vadaro said. “I am here sometimes trolling for kids to want to be a firefighter and get them to work. This is just awful to see him there.”
Hundreds of fellow students were also in attendance and took off from school for the funeral.
“I cherish the memories of him, and I’m still trying to cope with this,” said one 14-year-old fellow student. Another student said, “we are just trying to process this. He would just want us all to be happy.”
Police from the 113th Precinct were a large presence at the funeral. Detectives are still trying to find the two young men who fired the shots into the basketball court that night. So far, all they have is a murky video and several leads about the motive for the shooting.
Cops described the first suspect is described as a male, last seen wearing a red hooded sweater and a dark colored jacket. The second male perpetrator is described wearing dark colored clothing.
Anyone with information in regard to this incident is asked to call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the CrimeStoppers website at WWW.NYPDCRIMESTOPPERS.COM or on Twitter @NYPDTips. All calls are strictly confidential.