After hundreds showed up for a balloon release in his memory, a Decatur High sophomore's family and friends said they still struggle to understand how he could have survived two kidney transplants but succumbed to a bullet on the Fourth of July.
Amari Deloney, 16, was shot early Saturday morning. Police Department spokeswoman Emily Long said Monday that persons of interest have been developed in the shooting death of the juvenile.
A Decatur police news release sent out Sunday said investigators believe the homicide occurred in the area of East Acres Apartments near 18th Avenue and Locust Street in Southeast Decatur. Friends at Sunday night's memorial and balloon release said numerous teens had been shooting fireworks in the area.
Police responded at 1:34 a.m. Saturday to a shooting reported from the Decatur Morgan Hospital premises.
“The victim, a juvenile, was treated for a gunshot wound at the Decatur hospital and later transported to UAB Hospital, where he was pronounced deceased," according to the police statement.
As storm clouds approached Sunday night, friends and family — many sobbing — gathered outside Ogle Stadium to remember Deloney's strength and humor.
“Don’t worry about Amari,” said Donal Johnson, who once coached Deloney. “He’s in the hands of a good Lord. Young men, keep your heads up. He had a good heart."
Decatur High baseball coach John Frost said Monday that Deloney’s father texted him in the middle of the night while at the hospital.
“I bet I’ve looked at that text 20 times just trying to make sense of it all,” Frost said. “I was just speechless. I appreciated his dad thought enough of me to call me in that situation. I can only imagine how hard that was.”
Frost said he had grown closer to Deloney in recent months because the teen was usually the first player to arrive for voluntary batting practice.
Their relationship progressed to the point that Deloney, the Raiders’ starting centerfielder, talked about his hopes and dreams for the future.
“Amari loved baseball and he hoped to play in college one day,” Frost said. “This morning was especially tough because I opened the hitting barn for the first time without him.”
Those who knew Deloney said he was a quiet and laid back, did well in school and worked hard on the sports he loved.
“Amari was so quiet sometimes you would not even notice he was in the room,” said Kurtistene White, a teacher's aide and a Decatur Youth Services employee. “You won’t find anyone who will say anything bad about him.”
But Deloney had a sense of humor that came out around family and friends, said relative Portia Matthews.
“He always made us laugh,” Matthews said. “I remember him always dancing and making everybody laugh. He was always coming to my refrigerator and grabbing something to drink, leaving the cabinets open. He had a good spirit. He’ll always be with us.”
Cousin Landon Butterman, 12, cried softly as he said Deloney “taught me a lot of things. He made everybody laugh all the time. I’m going to miss him a lot.”
Deloney was tough despite his quiet demeanor and slight size. After his body rejected one kidney transplant, he had another in elementary school and recovered well, according to friends. He couldn’t play football but he played basketball and baseball.
“Amari was a great kid,” said friend and teammate Keandre Williams. “He motivated all of us. I spent so much time with him. The day I met his family we instantly clicked. They took me and my twin brother in as sons.”
Williams and others at the memorial struggled to understand their friend's violent death.
“Amari always wanted us to look after him, and he looked after us,” Williams said. “He never wanted no trouble. He didn’t deserve what happened to him."
In a prayer at the memorial, Messiah Smith remembered the strength Deloney showed in dealing with kidney disease. “Amari was a friend to all of us. Lord, I ask that this tragedy bring us all together as people. Amari fought and he fought and he fought."
Reynolds Funeral Home will be handling arrangements.
Police asked that anyone with information about the shooting contact Detective Joshua Daniell at 256-341-4644 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.