On a Lower East Side Corner, Mourning a Young Athlete Killed by a Gunman

Raphael Ward was known in the projects of the Lower East Side for his lanky frame, his easy laugh and his devotion to nearly every form of sports, especially baseball.

Raphael, who was 16, played shortstop for teams like the Pirates and the Hawks, organized by the local Boys Club. Fellow players said he was known for graceful fielding and a smooth swing.

Just after 9 p.m. on Friday, according to the police, he was fatally shot while standing near Rivington and Columbia Streets, about a block from the apartment in the Baruch housing project where he lived with his mother and a younger brother.

He was declared dead at Beth Israel Medical Center.

Nicholas Ramos, 18, said that he was with Raphael on Friday night when a gunman approached, causing panic among a group of people gathered in a commercial plaza.

Mr. Ramos darted into a pizza shop and Raphael sought shelter next door, in a candy store. Mr. Ramos said he thought Raphael emerged from the store a few moments later to see if the gunman was still outside. It was at that point that the gunman fired, striking Raphael in the chest and sending him reeling back into the store.

The police said that as Raphael collapsed he spoke to a few friends inside the store, indicating that the person who shot him might have wanted to steal his jacket. Others who were gathered at the store on Saturday wondered whether the shooting could have stemmed from a simmering feud between youths living in the Baruch project and the nearby Riis Houses.

Although the narrow streets of the Lower East Side have many popular bars and restaurants and tenants in the apartments above often pay high rents, Raphael’s part of the neighborhood has retained some of the old dangers. Drug gangs still operate in the Baruch houses, and gunfire is not uncommon. Some residents said on Saturday that Raphael may have sometimes hung out with people who were in gangs, but they portrayed him differently, as an A student with a vivid sense of humor and a strong commitment to sports.

No one answered a knock on the door to the apartment where Raphael lived. Affixed to the door was a handwritten note that asked for privacy and added: “your concern and love is greatly appreciated.”

Outside the building, Opal Cotto, 38, said that Raphael’s mother was “falling apart” from grief.

A neighbor, Omar Gibson, also 38, who said he had children Raphael’s age, described him as “soft-spoken and respectful” and added that he was known in the neighborhood as a talented athlete.

“He was built to be on TV, getting paid to play with a ball,” he said.

Outside the candy store, photographs of Raphael were taped to a wall above a cardboard box that sat next to bouquets of flowers.

Sebastian Ramos, Nicholas Ramos’s brother, knelt next to the display and closed his eyes. He said that he had heard a gunshot the previous night and emerged from a nearby building to see Raphael’s body inside the store.

Nearby, others lighted tall candles in glass sleeves adorned with pictures of saints.

Back at the building where Raphael’s mother lives, Kalil Perry, 15, was on his way upstairs to pay his respects. He burst into tears as he approached the building. Mr. Gibson, standing by the front door, grabbed him and hugged him as he wept.

“He was my friend,” Kalil said. “We hung out every day.”

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