Dozens of mourners attended a dawn funeral service Saturday to grieve a 15-year-old student stabbed to death in a Bronx classroom, the first schoolyard killing in New York in over 20 years.
Authorities say Matthew McCree was fatally stabbed last month at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation by another student believed to be a victim of bullying. Another classmate, who tried to intervene, was critically wounded.
Tearful family members remembered the boy as an "awesome kid" as classmates looked over the casket where McCree lay in a white suit. An orange piece of artwork in the shape of an oversized basketball that featured the letters "MM" stood nearby.
"That was his dream, to play basketball. And he wanted to go to Fordham University. He never got that opportunity either," said his grandmother, Opal Smith.
A wake Friday night was attended by over 100 family members, classmates and Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio.
McCree's mother said that she was "living day by day."
"He was my baby. Now he is gone," Louna Dennis, 34, told the Daily News.
Abel Cedeno, 18, has pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder following the killing, which authorities say he carried out with a switchblade knife bought on Amazon after weeks of homophobic taunts.
Police said McCree and his friend, Ariane Laboy, 16, had been throwing broken bits of pencils and paper at Cedeno's head during history class Sept. 27. Authorities said Cedeno excused himself to go to the bathroom, and returned with a switchblade knife which he plunged into McCree's chest and back. Laboy also was stabbed when he tried to intervene.
But McCree's mother said the bullying story "surprised" her. "I'd like to know where that came from. My son had no problems at school."
This was echoed by McCree's classmates.
"Matthew would never bully a gay person; he knew better than that," Hensehk Bernardez, 16, told The New York Times.
It was the first homicide inside a New York City school since 1993, when a spate of schoolyard killings prompted schools to install metal detectors. The West Farms school where McCree was killed did not have metal detectors.
"It's rough, but we'll get through it. And what can I say, Matthew's in a better place," his aunt told mourners at the funeral. McCree's body was driven past his high school before being taken to Canarsie Cemetery for burial.