A 13-year-old Black Rock boy has confessed to killing Ameer Al Shammari, also 13, law enforcement officials say.
The boy, identified by authorities as Jean Sanchez, was arrested at about 3:30 a.m. today after homicide investigators developed leads that helped them to identify the suspect.
Sanchez has been charged as an adult with second-degree murder, an official told The Buffalo News.
If convicted, he faces a minimum prison term of five years to life and a maximum of nine years to life, because he is 13, according to Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III.
The minimum for murder defendants 14 and 15 years old is seven years to life and the maximum is 15 to life, while the minimum for defendants 16 and older is 15 to life and the maximum is 25 to life. Defendants 12 and younger cannot be prosecuted as adults.
Neighbors and family friends believe the killing was tied to Ameer’s attempt to retrieve an iPhone that was stolen from him Friday. Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said today during a news conference that the stolen phone may figure into the killing.
Officials also said city surveillance cameras played a role in the arrest. Police would not comment on cause of death.
Ameer’s body was found Saturday afternoon in lot off Amherst Street.
Zahia Rizek, who assisted Ameer’s family when they arrived here 18 months ago, reacted with satisfaction that an arrest had been made.
“Oh, my God. We need justice. We need justice," said Rizek, who runs a small store on Amherst Street. “We are so happy that police did this. The boy was so peaceful. Why would they kill him? He never did anything wrong.”
Sanchez appeared before City Court Judge Debra L. Givens at about 10:30 a.m. with a public defender and a Spanish translator at his side. The attorney entered a not-guilty plea to a single charge of second-degree murder on the boy’s behalf.
James F. Bargnesi, chief of the district attorney’s homicide bureau, recommended Sanchez be held without bail, and the judge agreed. A felony hearing was scheduled in Givens’ courtroom for 2 p.m. Friday.
Ameer’s funeral was held this morning in the Masjid al-Eiman & Islamic Center at 444 Connecticut St. The casket was brought into the mosque at about 9:45 a.m.
At about 10:05 a.m., family and friends left for the Cheektowaga cemetery where Ameer will be buried.
As they left the mosque, they chanted in Arabic, “In God we come and onto him we will return.”
Cars in the funeral procession had photos of the boy taped onto their windows. Black ribbons were tied onto car antennas.
After the funeral, Ali Kadhum, executive director of the newly formed Iraqi American Society, described the family as shattered by their son’s death.
“The father told me he is not able to carry this sadness,” said Kadhum, who also serves as president of the Buffalo Immigrant Refugee Empowerment Coalition.
“This is not easy for the family,” he said. “It is hard to bury a child.”
Friends, family, neighbors and others planned to gather to console the father and his two other sons from 4 to 8 p.m. today at the Grant Street headquarters of the Iraqi American Society. Other arrangements were made to have a group of women console the mother.
News that a 13-year-old had been arrested in the case aroused feelings of anger, sadness and relief in the city’s Iraqi community, Kadhum said.
“It’s very sad – a 13-year-old charged with the murder of another boy,” he said. “But people also are relieved that it was not gangs or professional criminals. There has been a lot of fear about the safety of other children.”
Malikah Muhammad, a family friend who attended the funeral, said word quickly spread through community about Ameer’s death, and dozens came out for the funeral, including his school principal and teachers.
“It made me feel warm inside. It says a lot about our community,” Muhammad said.
Ameer’s parents were so grief-stricken that they both collapsed, Rizek said. “It was so sad. The mom fainted and the father fainted. It was horrible.”