A hoops fanatic on his way to basketball practice was shot to death in front of his horrified girlfriend in Brooklyn, police said Thursday.
Latrell Brown, 16, was killed, allegedly by Justin Delapara, 17, outside a Macon St. building near Lewis Ave. in Bedford-Stuyvesant at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
At a brief and emotional vigil Thursday, about 60 relatives, friends and ballplayers, many inconsolable, gathered to light candles and to release white balloons.
They’d marched from Brooklyn Law and Technical High School, where the teen was going to enter his senior year in the fall, to the site where his life ended.
They came to remember the promising basketball player who stood tall on the court but was cut down by an apparent stranger’s bullet.
“Me and Latrell were walking, and this guy was making a face,” said girlfriend Sabrina Tucker, 17, who was best friends with the victim before they began dating three years ago. She indicated that the victim didn’t recognize the shooter.
“Latrell asks the guy if he has a problem. He turns around and shoots him,” she told the Daily News. “I ran to him. I took my shirt and covered his head. I told him I needed him and loved him.”
Michelle Armstrong, Latrell’s grieving mother, said her son never ran into trouble.
“How you gonna take somebody’s life like that?” she said outside her East New York home. “What are you doing carrying a gun?”
Armstrong said her son loved playing basketball so much “he used to sleep with a basketball.”
Latrell’s coach on the nonprofit Brooklyn Ballers said the teen was a shooting guard and one of the better players on the team.
“He practices every day,” said the coach. “If he’s not playing or practicing with me, he’s outside playing in the street.
All that dedication and practice had paid off — Latrell was going to be the team’s captain going into senior year, his coach said.
“College player I would say for sure,” he said.
Before heading out to practice, Latrell had stopped home from his summer job doing maintenance at Public School 262, his mom said.
The teen’s brother, Shahid, 17, said he also loved science and wanted to work with animals.
Delapara is charged with murder and weapons possession, cops said. He will be held at Rikers Island until he returns to court July 17.
“We’re going to plead not guilty,” the defendant’s attorney Mitchell Elman said at his client’s arraignment in Brooklyn Criminal Court late Thursday. “We’re going to fight these charges vigorously.”
The alleged killer’s stunned father, speaking outside the brownstone neighbors said he and his wife own, claimed his son was a “decent kid.” The home is less than 100 feet from where Brown was shot.
“He’s a good person,” said Dave Delapara, 48, as he climbed into a black SUV with his wife on their way to the courthouse. “He goes to private school. Everyone in the neighborhood will tell you he’s decent.”
Neighbors, who said the suspect’s mother is a correction officer, were shocked the 17-year-old could be capable of such wanton violence.
“I can’t believe he had it in him,” said next-door-neighbor Reginald Belgrave, 77. “He seemed to be a serious young man.”
Delapara “had everything going for him,” neighbors said.
“He had something simmering in him, pent up,” said a neighbor who wished to remain anonymous. “This is how he let it out.”
Education Department officials dispatched counseling and crisis support to help students, staff and families who knew the slain teen.