A college basketball star home for summer break was killed by a stray bullet — and eight people were wounded — when a shooting erupted at a Harlem rapper’s Father’s Day cookout early Monday, police said.
“Greatest kid ever,” is how fatally shot Darius Lee was described by his former coach, Chris Williams. “This is like a Harlem angel. I want my 5-year-old to be like Darius. I’m not just saying this.”
The barbecue was organized by local rapper Rich Rhymer, who was shooting a video when the gunplay broke out, according to cops.
Lee, 21, got a full scholarship to Houston Baptist University, where he played for the Huskies, and was due to graduate in December. He had just returned home to Harlem two weeks ago to enjoy summer break.
“He only cared about basketball,” said Lee’s sister Tiara. “He decided to stay outside one day and this happened . , , These are innocent kids that’s in school, playing basketball.”
Lee was recently named male athlete of the year by his college, led his team in scoring and rebounding and was sixth in the nation in steals per game, school officials said.
Lee, who played under Williams at St. Raymond’s High School in the Bronx, does not appear to have been the intended target, police said.
“My brother’s gone,” his devasted sister said. “Great kid. He’s gone, for no reason.”
“Humble,” she said, searching for words to describe her slain brother. “Star. Basketball player. Don’t bother nobody. Stayed out the way.”
“Just pray for our family,” she added. “This has been going on for how long? It’s not gonna stop.”
It wasn’t yet clear what prompted the shooting, which broke out about 12:40 am at an outdoor park barbecue, but police said there were several gunmen. One handgun was recovered at the scene.
“They just went to a cookout to listen to music,” Lee’s cousin Dee Cook said. “They just kids, want to enjoy themselves for the summer. A lot of innocent people got hit. They just shooting wild. They don’t care who they shooting.”
Lee “never had a fight in his life,” Cook added. “This should have never happened.”
On Instagram, Rich Rhymer posted a video showing cops shutting down his initial planned location for the annual Father’s Day cookout on Eighth Ave. and asked followers to direct message him for the new location.
“We heavy on the food & drinks,” he promised in the post.
The survivors are two women and six men between 21 and 42, police said. Most of the victims were in their early 20s.
“The emboldened individuals responsible for this are exactly who our officers are battling every day to make our city safe,” Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said at pre-dawn press conference near the scene at 139th St. and Fifth Ave.
Officers responding to the scene found five of the bleeding victims on an Harlem River Drive footpath under the Madison Avenue Bridge, according to NYPD Deputy Chief Brian McGee. Medics hastened them to nearby hospitals.
Police later found out four other gunshot victims had gone to the hospital on their own or with the help of others, he said.
The 6-foot-6 230-pound Lee, whose family lived near where he was shot, died at Lincoln Hospital.
“We are looking for anyone with information,” McGee said. “We know that there were a lot of people out there.”
Williams said Lee never forgot where he came from.
“We train with each other in the off-season,” Williams said. “He comes to the school, talks to the kids. We were just together, literally like soon as he came home for the summer. It’s just crazy.”
He was the “glue” when he starred at St. Raymond’s, Williams said, and inspired the students and players he met whenever he returned to his alma mater.
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“He just came and brightened up the gym,” Williams said. “That’s what he does. Big bright smile…
Harlem just gotta do better,” Williams added. “I don’t know what happened but you don’t find a better kid than Darius Lee.”
“We are devastated,” Lee’s college coach James Sears Bryant said in a statement.
“Darius was a remarkable young man. , , We are in shock and cannot wrap our heads around this news. My heart breaks for his mom, his sister and his entire family, and for our basketball team. , , As great of a basketball player as he was, he was an even better person. I can’t even think of basketball right now. I can only think of what a light Darius was during his short time on earth. He was a joy to coach and we loved him so much.”
“He was a very fine young man who had a very bright future in front of him,” added Houston Baptist University Director of Athletics Steve Moniaci. “This is unfortunately, yet again, another example of the senseless gun violence that seems to be plaguing our country right now and we all pray it will cease.”
Shootings, while still up dramatically, 47%, compared to two years ago, are down 11% in New York City this year versus the same time period year.
“While we are making some headway against violence we have a lot of work to do,” Sewell said. “But we need help [from] the entire criminal justice system.”