GARY — Family, friends and schoolmates of Kasreeyal Hester gathered outside his home Saturday night to mourn his death and to pledge not to let such a tragedy happen again.
Hester was shot to death on his 17th birthday Friday night along with one of his best friends, Mark Skipper, 15, of the 6600 block of Kennedy Ave., Hammond.
Both teenagers, who had played football together on the Morton High School team, were found shot to death in a car parked in the 800 block of Burr Street, just down from Hester's home, police said.
A patrol officer discovered the bodies around 8:30 p.m. The officer saw the parked car with the driver side door open and went to investigate, said police. Both teens were dead at the scene and ruled homicides by the Lake County coroner's office.
"He wasn't in the streets. He was trying to get good grades. He was athletic. He was trying to get out of Gary," said Ronald Williams, 17, who played football with Hester at Gary's Roosevelt High School. Williams said Hester had recently transferred to the school.
"Things like this make it hard for us to make it out of Gary," Williams said.
Williams stood outside the small ranch-style home with nearly 70 others. Many cried, holding candles. Others had brought teddy bears and heart-shaped balloons to place at a memorial near the street where the two young men died.
Skipper was also a football player for Morton High School, where he was a sophomore, having played quarterback and linebacker positions, according to the school's roster.
Williams' father, Ronald Sr., said he's lived in the neighborhood all his life. It is usually peaceful and quiet and neighbors know each other.
But said Williams Sr., there is a lack of police patrol in the area as well as a lack of activities for young people.
"He was a good kid. He was just somebody trying to find his way in life," said Hester's uncle, Timothy Keith.
Neighbors and family members took turns speaking through a bullhorn.
His mother, Nakita, told the young people gathered around her "to keep an open relationship with your parents."
"We are trying to get through this. We are trying to be strong for him," she said.
Leneire Locket, a Gary Police Department chaplain and local pastor, led the crowd in prayer.
"We need to get back and get on our knees and pray. We need to start with a purpose," Locket said.
Others took turns speaking, some saying someone had to see something Friday night and needed to tell police. Others told parents to keep their children close. Still others told the children to go to their parents for help and support.
Anyone with information regarding this incident is asked to call Detective James Bond of the Lake County/Gary Metro Homicide Unit at (219) 755-3852 or the Crime Tip Line at (866) CRIME-GP.