on May 4, 2014 - 6:47 PM
, updated May 5, 2014 at 4:58 PM
Mayor Byron W. Brown today called the killing of 13-year-old Ameer Al Shammari “a terrible loss of a young teenager” and he said “police will be working around-the-clock on this.”
The Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled his death a homicide after an autopsy today.
Buffalo Police will not release the exact cause of the boy’s death for now as homicide detectives and the entire police force concentrate on identifying and capturing his killer or killers, said department spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge.
Brown said he extended his condolences to the teen’s family through an Iraqi interpreter.
“They’re very sad. They’re in pain. And, they want the person responsible for this to be brought to justice,” Brown said.
“It hurts all of us,” the mayor said.
The mayor declined to comment on the specifics of the investigation other than to call it “active.”
“I implore the community to please provide any information the community may have,” he said.
Ameer’s parents gave him an iPhone to reward him for his hard work in school and his dedication to improve his English.
He treasured his new phone, and he was devastated when it was stolen from him Friday, according to family friends and neighbors, citing witness accounts. They believe that the teen followed the thieves to try to get his phone back.
Ameer wasn’t heard from again until his body was found Saturday afternoon at an overgrown former golf park in the city’s Black Rock section, several blocks from his home, a grim discovery that is uniting the area’s Iraqi community in support of the boy’s grief-stricken family.
“When this kind of tragedy happens, you see the whole Iraqi community come together as one family,” Ali Kadhum, a founder of the Iraqi American Society, said Sunday outside the society’s Grant Street offices. “We feel this is our job now, to help the family heal.”
As of late Sunday, police had yet to make an arrest in Ameer’s death, they hadn’t said how the boy died, and they had released few details about their investigation, beyond saying there are signs of foul play.
As the Al Shammaris and their fellow Iraqi refugees await answers – and justice – in the boy’s death, family friends are struggling to understand how a boy can escape the violence of his war-torn home country only to die far too young in America.
“They came because there’s no safe life over there,” said Ali Al Jebori, a family friend and committee member of the Iraqi society. “They came for a better life.”
Ameer arrived in this country 18 months ago with his parents and older brothers Ihab, 22, and Saif, 20, settling on working-class Peter Street in Black Rock.
Ameer could be shy, and stayed close to his mother, but he enjoyed playing soccer and riding his bike in the neighborhood, Al Jebori said.
Photos provided to The Buffalo News by a family friend show Ameer standing in an electronics shop, posing on a city street with Santa Claus, getting ready to blow out the candles on a birthday cake and visiting the downtown waterfront. “He thought he came to paradise,” Al Jebori said.
At Waterfront Elementary School 95, Ameer was a seventh-grader who Principal David P. Hills said greeted him regularly.
“Every day out on the bus lot, he would say, ‘Have a good night, Mr. Hills.’ He would always make sure he said good night to me,” the principal recalled.
Hills said Ameer enrolled in Waterfront last spring and had a small but close-knit group of friends, many of whom were also immigrants. Though Ameer struggled with language and academic skills, he made considerable progress over the course of a year.
“He was starting to work a lot harder, and starting to make some improvements,” Hills said.
Kadhum, of the Iraqi American Society, said Ameer’s parents were so pleased with his recent performance in school, and his efforts to learn English, that they bought him an iPhone as a reward.
“He was very attached to the phone,” Kadhum said.
Kadhum, Al Jebori and other Iraqi community members don’t know for sure what happened to Ameer, they said, but they have heard from people who saw him Friday afternoon that a group of teenagers or young adults left Ameer in tears after taking his phone.
They believe that Ameer decided to follow the thieves, and that’s when he went missing.
Al Jebori said he helped the Al Shammaris report Ameer’s disappearance to the police about two hours later, sometime after 8 p.m. Friday.
Family, friends and neighbors printed and posted fliers and searched for Ameer late Friday and Saturday. At about 3 p.m. Saturday, a man walking his dogs noticed a body on the grounds of the former Tee to Green golf facility on Amherst Street near Churchill Street. Members of the Iraqi community said late Saturday that the body was Ameer’s, and police confirmed that Sunday afternoon.
Investigators have not commented on the suspicions voiced by neighbors and family friends that Ameer was killed for his phone.
Buffalo police spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge said Sunday that the boy was last seen in the area of Amherst and Peter streets at about 5 p.m. Friday and that a blue bicycle may have been taken from near where his body was found.
Police are awaiting the result of an autopsy, and they ask anyone with information relevant to the investigation to call or text the Confidential TIPCALL line at 847-2255.
The Buffalo School District said in a statement Sunday that its crisis team will join Waterfront’s student support team to provide counseling to students, parents and staff.
Ameer’s family politely declined to speak with a News reporter Sunday, when female relatives and friends gathered at the Al Shammaris’ Peter Street home and the men met at the Iraqi American Society’s offices on Grant Street.
There are about 4,000 Iraqis living in this area, and the community will support the Al Shammaris as it can in the days and weeks to come.
The society has taken up a collection among the area’s Iraqi refugees and immigrants, and Kadhum hopes by today to have a bank account set up to accept donations from the wider community.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete Sunday night. Kadhum said the family has decided to have Ameer buried here, not in Iraq.
News Staff Reporters T.J. Pignataro and Sandra Tan contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org