Maurice R. Howie was the star quarterback last fall for South Park High School.
Now he is a murder suspect in the brutal killing last month of a popular cab driver.
Police say he was one of two young men who shot and killed Mazen Abdallah while robbing him.
The 55-year-old cabbie had just begun his day at about 5:40 a.m. March 6 picking up the suspects at the Commodore Perry housing projects.
Coaches, friends and teachers at South Park were devastated by the accusation Wednesday after the arrest was announced.
It seemed impossible to believe the 11th grader, who studied to keep his grades up so that he could play football, could be responsible for taking part in the killing.
“It’s like this is happening to your own kid. The school is stunned and there are many tears. Everyone is walking around in a daze,” said Al Thomas, a former football coach at Grover Cleveland High School who now works part-time for South Park, recalled how his team years ago competed against South Park when they were quarterbacked by Howie’s father, also a formidable athlete.
The 17-year-old Howie has been the Sparks’ starting quarterback for the past three years and is the school record holder in every quarterback category.
Shock at the school was also accompanied by condolences to Abdallah’s family. School officials say that while they are saddened one of their students is charged, they want it known that they do not condone violence and have nothing but compassion for the dead cab driver’s loved ones.
Howie is the second star athlete to be charged in a Buffalo robbery that ended in homicide this year. Justice Feegans, an 18-year-old Riverside High School basketball player, was arrested in January for the home invasion and beating of 96-year-old Levi Clayton, who died April 10 from the blunt force trauma he suffered last November when four young men broke into his home.
In charging Howie with second-degree murder Wednesday, homicide detectives say he and his accomplice called for a cab and intended from the start to rob whoever arrived to give them a ride.
Abdallah picked them up and on the way to a Bailey-Kensington address, the robbers shot the West Side resident in the head and took his cash, detectives said. They then placed him in the back seat of the cab and drove it to Norfolk Avenue, where they parked the 2006 Lincoln Town Car and fled.
When Abdallah failed to answer the two-way radio in his vehicle, his fellow cab drivers at Airport Taxi raced to Bailey Kensington to search for him and found the cab, not far from the intersection of Kensington Avenue.
On Wednesday at South Park High School, tears shed for Howie were tempered by concern for Abdallah’s family.
South Park football coach Tim Delaney took a special interest in working with Howie, seeing him practically every day since the later part of eighth grade.
“The South Park football program would like to send its condolences to the victim’s family. We are shocked and devastated that one of our players is involved in this tragic incident,” said Delaney, an English teacher at South Park for the past 11 years and head football coach the past five seasons.
Thomas said he frequently offers a warning of how one bad decision can ruin a young person’s life.
“I always say, you make one bad decision in your young life and you’re done.”
That’s similar to what Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said as described the killing.
“These kids take a life and they don’t realize it but their life is over too. They go to prison for life,” Derenda said.
In what must have seemed like a million miles from the glory of the football field, Maurice Howie Sr. accompanied his son to the Homicide Bureau at Buffalo Police Headquarters Monday after being informed that the teenager was wanted for questioning in the killing.
By that time, a case had already been built by Detective Sgt. James P. Lonergan and Detectives Michael A. Mordino, Richard R. Wagstaff and Salvatore A. Valvo.
Mayor Byron W. Brown, at a news conference Wednesday morning in Bailey Kensington, said the detectives had collected surveillance video from several cameras and received a number of tips from the public that assisted in the investigation of the March 6 slaying.
“It was a chilling crime. Mr. Abdallah was just doing his job,” Brown said.
A second arrest is “imminent,” according to Detective Chief Dennis J. Richards.
But for now, police are not saying who pulled the trigger or releasing additional details about the crime, though they say more will be revealed once the second suspect is charged.
Relatives of Abdallah say they are glad police have solved the homicide, but indicated it is bittersweet since it will not bring back their loved one.
“Thank God they got him...maybe this will spare another family,” said a relative, who explained that the family does not wish to comment further.
Abdallah’s coworkers recalled Wednesday that he was so popular people would often request him by name to drive them.
“He was just a dear soul who we worked with for a number of years, just a kind guy,” said cab dispatcher Mike Foremiak. “We were very happy today to hear there was some resolution.”
But the news left members of Howie’s family devastated, according to a friend who stood watch outside the teenager’s South Buffalo home Wednesday afternoon.
“I can tell you Maurice is a great kid and everyone is devastated. Today is his mother’s birthday,” the friend said.
A felony hearing for Howie is set for 2 p.m. Friday in front of Buffalo City Court Judge Joseph A. Fiorella. The teen is being represented by defense attorney Michael L. D’Amico.