It was a routine school night for Kahlik Grier, a 16-year-old student in the Bronx. After a day of online classes, he had Chinese takeout with his mother. Then he made his way to a friend’s apartment three stories below to play video games.
Shortly before midnight on Jan. 11, Kahlik was climbing back up the stairs to his 10th-floor apartment when he ran into a young man coming down with a gun in his hand, the police said.
The gunman had just shot two people at a gathering on the ninth floor in what police said was a gang dispute.
He fired a bullet into Kahlik’s neck, then fled, the police said. Told of the shooting, Kahlik’s older brother came running down the stairs and tried to save the teenager. It was no use. He died later at a hospital.
“He was not out in the streets getting in trouble,” Kahlik’s mother, Taywanna Boyd, 41, said, sobbing, a few hours after her son’s death. “He just wanted to play video games. He was coming back home. And now he’s dead.”
Kahlik was the latest teenager to become collateral damage in a wave of gun violence that has plagued New York and other cities over the last 12 months.
In New York City, shootings doubled in 2020 over the previous year, climbing to 1,531, and murders rose 44 percent to 462, a trend that has shown few signs of slowing down in recent weeks, according to police data.
In the last six months, from July 1 to Jan. 10, at least 20 of the murder victims were 18 or younger, and 15 of those teenagers died of gunshot wounds, according to the data.
In late October, for instance, a 17-year-old was killed in Brooklyn after he refused to hand over his belongings to an armed robber. A night earlier a 16-year-old youth had been fatally shot in the chest outside a public housing building in the Crown Heights neighborhood.
“We’ve had a very difficult year,” the chief of detectives, Rodney Harrison, said.
Days after Kahlik’s death, the police arrested Desire Louree, 19, and an unidentified 15-year-old boy in connection with the murder and the ninth-floor attack. But the gunman remains at large, the authorities said.
Chief Harrison said Kahlik, like so many other teenagers killed in shootings over the last year, appeared to be a bystander who got caught up in a dispute he had nothing to do with. Few, however, have been shot inside their own buildings.
“We believe he was not the intended target,” Chief Harrison said.
Ms. Boyd said Kahlik was the youngest of her three sons and described him as “a good kid who never gave me problems.”
Kahlik loved watching funny YouTube videos and playing video games, and, like so many of his peers, dreamed of becoming a professional basketball player, his family said. But he also was dedicated to his studies at W.H. Maxwell Career and Technical Education High School, they said.
His mother recalled how many nights, after she finished her long shift as a housekeeper at a Brooklyn hotel, Kahlik would call her and ask her to bring home his favorite ice cream, butter pecan.
“I’m going to miss his smile the most,” she said. “He had the most beautiful smile.”
Kahlik’s chance encounter with the gunman from the earlier shooting led to his death, the police said. At around 11:30 p.m., a man wearing a pandemic mask opened fire at three men and a woman walking into an apartment on the ninth floor of the building, at 3560 Webster Ave., according to surveillance footage reviewed by investigators. The bullets hit a 22-year-old man in the ankle and a 19-year-old man in the back, the police said.
The gunman then raced down the staircase where he ran into Kahlik and fired a single round, striking the teenager in the neck. It is unclear if Kahlik struggled with the gunman. “We still don’t know what happened in that staircase,” Chief Harrison said.
Last week, the police released security camera video of three young men believed to have taken part in the shooting on the ninth floor, including the gunman, walking out of an elevator in the building.
Zion Mignon, 20, who lives with the family, said one of the building residents called Kahlik’s older brother, Deshaun Grier, and told him the teenager was badly wounded on the stairs between the eighth and ninth floors.
Deshaun Grier, 21, hurried to his brother, put pressure on the wound and performed CPR in a desperate effort to keep him breathing. “He tried to save his life,” Ms. Boyd said.
But the bullet had damaged Kahlik’s heart, family members said. He died at around 2 a.m.
Investigators believe Mr. Louree, who lives on the eighth floor, conspired with the shooter to lure the victims of the initial attack to the building.
During the investigation, the police discovered that Deshaun Grier had a gun and arrested him for weapons possession. Investigators, say, however, his arrest was not connected to the shootings.
The apparent randomness of the murder recalled the killing of Aamir Griffin, a 14-year-old who was fatally shot in 2019 while playing basketball outside the public housing building in South Jamaica where he lived. The police said Mr. Griffin was the innocent bystander caught in a shootout between rival street crews.
The police have blamed much of the last year’s gun violence on a deadly combination of a thriving black market in firearms and escalating gang conflicts, made worse by the pandemic and its attendant economic decline.
Police officials say the department has had trouble curbing gang feuds, in part because its resources have been strained by budget cuts and, last summer, by massive protests against police brutality.
Oresa Napper-Williams, who founded Not Another Child in 2006 after her son, Andrell Daron Napper, was killed by a stray bullet, said elected leaders need to take more decisive steps to combat both the rise in crime and the health crisis in minority neighborhoods.
“During this time of pandemic, it is disheartening that the pandemic of gun violence is even more prevalent than it has been,” Ms. Napper-Williams said. “I’m tired of seeing young people like my son getting killed.”
Kahlik’s family were left struggling to comprehend how a teenage boy could have become a random victim in his own building.
“How are you not safe not even in your own building?” Ms. Mignon said. “He wasn’t out in the streets at that time. He was near his home.”