As police investigate a possible gang connection to the Long Island shooting that killed a 12-year-old girl while she was eating dinner inside her home over the weekend, her classmates returned to school Monday in shock and grief.
"I have math class with her," Merary Mavariete said of her Gray Schultz Middle School classmate Dejah Joyner. "I couldn't believe it."
Grief counselors at the Hempstead school monitored the students closest to Joyner. Administrators described their emotions as raw because Joyner was a vibrant, thoughtful girl.
"I've comforted students who had just been with her, students who said, 'But Mr. Rios, she told me she'd be back,'" said principal Noel Rios.
Dejah was shot Friday evening as she stood in the living room of her home in Hempstead, investigators said. A single bullet shot from the street crashed through a plate glass window, striking her in the head. She died Saturday evening.
Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said Monday police have not ruled out the possibility that someone in the house was being targeted in the Friday night shooting. Police have received numerous tips, and detectives are checking for surveillance video and other possible evidence.
"This is the top investigative priority, and we're looking at each and every rock until we find the coward responsible for this heinous act," said Krumpter.
Neighbors told NBC 4 New York that shots have been fired at the girl's house in the past.
Police and experts acknowledge the area around Joyner's home is ripe with gang activity, including from the Bloods, Crips and other gangs.
Rahsmia Zatar, who runs Strong Youth, an organization that fights gang includent on Long Island, said the arrest of Joyner's killer shouldn't be the end of the story.
"This is an area that's been neglected for way too long," she said. "We're just going to find ourselves here again if we don't really deal with the root of the issue."
Authorities are offering a $75,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest.
Authorities are asking anyone with information to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-244-TIPS (8477) or the Nassau County Homicide Squad at 516-573-7788.