Not everyone who came to the Delaware Park Rose Garden on Saturday knew Ameer Al Shammari, but they didn’t have to.
The public memorial service was for anyone who was shaken and heartbroken by the tragic story of this 13-year-old boy who came to America for a better life, only to end up dead over an iPhone.
So by the time the service began, a few hundred friends, acquaintances and complete strangers had gathered on this chilly Saturday evening to grieve alongside Ameer’s family.
“I just wanted to show my support for the family,” said Maggie McAloon of Buffalo. “This is just horrible and the violence has to stop.”
“I’m a mom,” said Chris Bylewski of Buffalo, wiping tears from her cheek. “I can’t imagine. I don’t know how you recover from this.”
The body of the Black Rock boy was found in an abandoned golf park off Amherst Street on May 3, less than 24 hours after Ameer’s family reported him missing.
Jean Sanchez, also 13, was later arrested by police and accused of luring Ameer to the former golf park, where he promised to return Ameer’s iPhone that Jean had allegedly stolen earlier in the day.
Once there, he beat and strangled Ameer, according to police.
The memorial service on Saturday was a call for peace and nonviolence, as well as an opportunity to let Ameer’s family know how much the community cares, said Ali Kadhum, president of the Iraqi American Society and one of the organizers of the event.
“It’s great support,” Kadhum said on Saturday. “This is what I expected from the community.
“We want to send a message to the family that we’re feeling what you’re feeling. We want to show them we care about them,” Kadhum said. “I’m sure the family really appreciated it.”
Dave Measer came from Clarence.
“This definitely hit me hard,” Measer said of Ameer’s death. “I don’t know why this really affected me, but it’s affected the community too. So I just wanted to be here for that reason.”
The tragedy resonated with McAloon, partly because of the young age of both boys.
“What could motivate a 13-year-old to kill another 13-year-old?” McAloon said.
“It’s just a child,” said Marcia Mitrowski of Buffalo, “a 13-year-old killed over a phone.”
Many who attended Saturday were also struck by Ameer’s story. He and his family were resettled in Buffalo just 18 months ago, after fleeing the violence in Iraq.
“I always feel for the immigrant community, because they came to a place and tried to create a better life for themselves. Then, something like this happens,” said Kate Mang of Hamburg. “I feel bad.”
The memorial included comments from several local officials, including Mayor Byron W. Brown, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Buffalo School Superintendent Pamela Brown.
A dozen colorful balloons were released in the air. A poem was recited in Arabic. Some of Ameer’s classmates at Waterfront Elementary School 95 sang the song “Cups” by Anna Kendrick.
David Hills, the school’s principal, talked about how at first Ameer had a difficult time adjusting to a whole new world, but how he had worked hard and started to thrive since Christmas.
In fact, Ameer’s parents recently gave him the phone as a reward for working hard at school and improving his English.
Ameer’s father and two brothers attended Saturday’s memorial, but his mother was too grief-stricken to attend, Kadhum said. But, he said, photos and video were taken at the memorial to show his mother how much Buffalo cares.
The memorial lasted about 45 minutes, and then the mourners lined up to pay their respects to Ameer’s family.
Anyone interested in making a donation to help the family defray expenses may mail a check to: YWCA of WNY, Attention: IAS Family Donation, 1005 Grant St.; Buffalo, NY 14207. Or they may make a PayPal donation through the YWCA’s website at www.ywca-wny.org/donation.php.