Gang shootout blamed for NYC mass shooting that killed college basketball star

HARLEM, Manhattan (WABC) -- A 21-year-old college basketball star was killed and eight others shot when gunfire erupted in Harlem, believed to be a gang-related shootout.

Family and friends of 21-year-old Darius Lee, the man killed at the late-night barbecue, spoke out as police continued searching for the gunmen.

"He's an innocent kid," Lee's sister, Tiara Weaver, said. "He decided to stay outside one day, and this is what happens."

Lee was a 2018 graduate of St. Raymond High School in the Bronx and was attending Houston Baptist University on a full scholarship. He was a star on the basketball teams of both schools and was set to graduate college next year.

"He was a pure soul, so kind," cousin Thailyn Lee said. "Wasn't into the streets or nothing. He was all about basketball. He didn't deserve none of this."

His family, friends, coaches, and teammates honored him Monday night in Harlem and Houston.

"We are heartbroken and devastated to learn of the senseless passing of Darius Lee, class of 2018," St. Raymond officials said in an Instagram post: Our prayers and condolences go out to his family at this time, and we pray for his eternal rest with our Lord. Aside from being a tremendous basketball star, he was a phenomenal human being, and a young man living such a positive life, succeeding in school, on the court, and in life. These senseless acts of violence need to stop...such a tragedy."

Lee was shot and killed after gunfire erupted at a cookout along the Harlem River drive around 12:30 a.m. Monday.

In total, seven men and two women ranging in age from 21 to 42 were struck in a park along the East River in the area of Fifth Avenue and East 139th Street.

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Two of the people who were shot have gang ties, and at least one of them may have been a gunman, according to police.

Detectives believe at least three guns were used to fire dozens of shots. They recovered one gun at the scene.

In the wake of the shooting, Lee's coach expressed grief and confusion over his star's untimely killing.

"Darius was a remarkable young man who loved the Lord, his mom, his family, his teammates, his friends, and his entire HBU family," Ron Cottrell, HBU's head men's basketball coach, wrote in a statement. "We are in shock and cannot wrap our heads around this news."

In spite of the violent circumstance of Lee's death, Cottrell added that his student-athlete left a positive legacy behind.

"As great of a basketball player as he was, he was an even better person. I can't even think of basketball right now. I can only think of what a light Darius was during his short time on earth. He was a joy to coach and we loved him so much," Cottrell wrote.

Cottrell told Eyewitness News anchor Bill Ritter that Lee was different, special.

"He was our university's male athlete of the year this year," he said. "That's how highly he was thought of on our campus."

HBU's director of athletics, Steve Moniaci, not only expressed sorrow over losing Lee, but also railed over yet another act of gun violence.

"He was a very fine young man who had a very bright future in front of him both on and off the court. This is unfortunately, yet again, another example of the senseless gun violence that seems to be plaguing our country right now and we all pray it will cease," Moniaci wrote in a statement.

Lee's impact on the court was also too hard to ignore.

This past season, he was a second-team All-Southland Conference selection after leading Houston Baptist in scoring and rebounding. He was also one of the best defenders in the country, finishing sixth in the nation in steals per game.

His father, Eric Lee, said his son was once chubby and not a kid you would expect to become a star athlete. But by 21 years old, he had earned one basketball scholarship after another and was a star. He was not a young adult anyone would expect to become a victim of gun violence.

So far, there have been no arrests.

Police are asking for the public's help, and anyone with information is asked to call the NYPD's Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477) or for Spanish, 1-888-57-PISTA (74782).

Sister station KTRK in Houston contributed to this report

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