NYC’s youngest fatal shooting victim this year remembered with a call to action

Family members, neighbors, friends and antiviolence groups gathered at a Brooklyn playground this week to memorialize Troy Gill, the 13-year-old boy shot and killed while walking home from a basketball game last week.

But the gathering took on a more urgent tone than the typical tearful remembrances for victims of fatal shootings. Gill is the fifth person to die as a result of gun violence in Crown Heights so far this year, and is also the youngest victim citywide so far. Activists as well as Gill’s family and friends issued a call to action.

“You should want life for your brother the same way you want life for yourself,” said Mubarak ‘Bless’ Ahmad, a member of the antiviolence group Save Our Streets. He stood next to Gill’s mother Mary Culbertson, who was racked with tears during the Tuesday night vigil.

“This is unacceptable. Crown Heights is crying,” Ahmad said.

Police said on Wednesday that they were still investigating details of Gill’s shooting, including who he was with and where he may have been going after attending a Brooklyn Nets Game at the Barclays Center last Thursday night.

Neighbors and violence interrupters weren’t waiting for the NYPD to diagnose the problem, though, and appealed directly to young people in the crowd.

“It’s only two ways: Ya’ll gonna die, or ya’ll going to jail,” Save Our Streets member Gloria Cutler shouted into a megaphone. “We want better for ya’ll… We care. So get it together, please.”

She implored the kids who had assembled to get involved in programs at the Save Our Streets center on nearby Kingston Street, and warned them about what could happen if they chose violent paths.

Gill’s stepfather Joseph Ward told the crowd that the teen was killed just as he was beginning to get involved with Save Our Streets.

“They were trying to get him to volunteer, trying to get him some work,” Ward said. “So this is crazy.”

Anthony Rowe, the project director of Save Our Streets’ Brooklyn-based parent company Neighbors in Action, said the organization is implementing an “all hands on deck” response to Gill’s death as it reaches out to youths in Crown Heights.

Neighbors in Action is under the umbrella of Center for Justice Innovation, which funded last year’s Crown Heights-based study that explored why some teens carry guns.

“I think we’re in a time where, you know, a lot of young people don’t feel seen and or loved or heard. And we’re trying to change that narrative, so our path forward is to invest in the youth,” Rowe told Gothamist at the memorial. “And even though we’ve been doing it for a long time, we’re going to make an overemphasis on making sure that young people feel heard and valued.”

Rowe said the organization will redouble its efforts to bring young people into its offices, where they have opportunities to apply for local jobs, learn computer skills and achieve certain types of certifications.

“We do this to uplift the community, to show everybody there is a way out,” Rowe said. “And it’s not through retaliation. It’s not through argument. It’s not through fighting.”

NYPD officials said they were investigating the possibility that Gill was targeted, although they said it was still unclear why. Officials said that detectives were looking into a white jeep that was observed leaving the scene.

It was also still unclear if Gill’s death was related to two other fatal shootings in Crown Heights earlier in the week.

As darkness fell over the playground, Gill’s mother took the megaphone and spoke through sobs about her son, who is survived by two siblings.

“He was a good boy. He loved everybody. And I feel like… this happened because he loved everybody. He was all over,” Culbertson said. “This hurts me. This is my baby, this is my first son. But I know he’s looking down, he’s good. And I hate to see everybody hurting, that’s what hurts me even more.”

Outside of Gill’s building located across from the playground, dozens of candles glowed among packets of candy and Cheez Doodles, handwritten notes, stuffed animals and photos of the teen.

People in the crowd released red, silver and white balloons, yelling “Forever Troy” as they slowly disappeared into the sky.

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