A college basketball star home for summer break was senselessly killed — and eight people wounded — when a shooting erupted at a Harlem rapper’s Father’s Day cookout early Monday, police said.
“Greatest kid ever,” is how fatally shot Darius Lee was described by his former coach, Chris Williams. “This is like a Harlem angel. I want my 5-year-old to be like Darius. I’m not just saying this.”
The barbecue was organized by local rapper Rich Rhymer, and he was shooting a video when the gunplay broke out, according to cops.
Lee, 21, got a full scholarship to Houston Baptist University, where he played for the Huskies, and was due to graduate in December, Williams said. He had just returned home to Harlem for summer break.
Lee, who played under Williams at St. Raymond’s High School in the Bronx, does not appear to have been the intended target.
It wasn’t yet clear what prompted the shooting, which broke out about 12:40 a.m. at an outdoor park barbecue, but police said there were several gunmen. One handgun was recovered at the scene.
On Instagram, Rich Rhymer posted a video showing cops shutting down his initial planned location for the annual Father’s Day cookout on Eighth Ave. and asked followers to direct message him for the new location.
“We heavy on the food & drinks,” he promised in the post.
The survivors are two women and six men between 21 and 42, police said. Most of the victims were in their early 20s.
‘’The emboldened individuals responsible for this are exactly who our officers are battling every day to make our city safe,” Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said at pre-dawn press conference near the scene at 139th St. and Fifth Ave.
Officers responding to the scene found five of the bleeding victims on an Harlem River Drive footpath under the Madison Avenue Bridge, according to NYPD Deputy Chief Brian McGee. Medics rushed them to nearby hospitals.
Police later found out four other gunshot victims had gone to the hospital on their own or with the help of others, he said.
The 6-foot-6 230-pound Lee, whose family lived near where he was shot, died at Lincoln Hospital.
“We are looking for anyone with information,” McGee said. “We know that there were a lot of people out there.”
Williams said Lee never forgot where he came from.
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“We train with each other in the off-season,” Williams said. “He comes to the school, talks to the kids. We were just together, literally like soon as he came home for the summer. It’s just crazy.”
The college’s web site lists Lee as a guard/forward and said he appeared in 23 games coming off the bench and averaged 7.9 points per game, third on the team.
He was the “glue” when he starred at St. Raymond’s, Williams said, and inspired the students and players he met whenever he returned to his alma mater.
“He just came and brightened up the gym,” Williams said. “That’s what he does. Big bright smile…
Harlem just gotta do better,” Williams added. “I don’t know what happened but you don’t find a better kid than Darius Lee.”
Shootings, while still up dramatically, 47%, compared to two years ago, are down 11% in the city this year versus the same time last year.
“While we are making some headway against violence we have a lot of work to do,” Sewell said. “But we need help [from] the entire criminal justice system.”