MOUNT VERNON, New York - Friends and family gathered Friday to bid a final farewell to a 13-year-old basketball star from Mount Vernon whose life was cut far too short.
Funeral services were held for Shamoya McKenzie, whose dreams of playing for the University of Connecticut and in the WNBA came to a tragic end when she was struck by a stray bullet on her way home from practice on New Year's Eve. She was in the passenger seat of her mother's car when the gunfire rang out, and McKenzie was struck in the head.
Hundreds of mourners packed the Macedonia Baptist Church on South Ninth Avenue and even lined up to pay their respects outside. And that's because there just wasn't enough church for all the people who loved McKenzie. They wrote notes of condolence, and they supported her family. In addition to her on-the-court heroics, she was also the star of her mother's heart.
"Only child," Nadine McKenzie said. "My best friend. My everything."
McKenzie will be buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Greenburgh on Saturday, after a procession that will begin at 8:30 a.m. at Macedonia Baptist Church.
Earlier this week, McKenzie wad made an honorary member of the UConn women's basketball team. Coach Geno Auriemma said he decided to make the gesture after hearing her story, and he also sent McKenzie's family a team jersey with her number, 30, along with a letter that read, "Once a Husky, Always a Husky."
"I don't know that it makes anything any better," Auriemma said Tuesday night after his Huskies won their 90th consecutive game. "But, it was just our way of saying, 'You didn't get a chance to be here, but you kind of are.'"
McKenzie, who was 6-foot-2, was already playing for Mount Vernon's junior varsity high school team and had just been called up to the varsity team the day she died. She was described by Mount Vernon school officials and coaches as excellent student, athlete and role model.
Mount Vernon residents also held a silent protest against violence after her death, as the community mourned the loss of what Graham Elementary School Principal Natasha Hunter-McGregor described as "a shining star."
Dwayne Murray was her travel basketball coach.
"We have to stop being surprised," he said. "And as a community, I think we have to, as adults, probably first start by saying that we failed."
An online fundraising page has been set up to help her family, and a curbside memorial is set up at the shooting scene. New York State CrimeStoppers has also raised the reward for information leading to an arrest to $5,000.