A train-loving boy aspired to serve and already had saved lives. Then gunfire ended his

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Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series profiling American youth killed this year by guns, a leading cause of death of children in the US. Read more about the project here.

Collingdale, Pennsylvania

Even on his most tiring Sundays, after a full day of working in sanitation, Anthony Alexander Sr. never missed an opportunity to take his namesake for a train ride on Philadelphia’s Regional Rail.

Anthony Alexander Jr.’s love for locomotives carried him through his youth, providing core memories between father and son, who knew every trolley and bus route in Philadelphia at the ripe age of 4.

Now, trains are how Anthony Jr.’s parents and seven siblings remember him daily as they wear chains adorned with silver train pendants made from his ashes.

And in their living room – where Anthony Jr. would sit and eat popcorn while watching movies or the local news during a storm – sits a side table that serves as a final resting place for his remaining ashes, held in a cherry-colored wooden urn topped with a replica matte silver train.

This teen saved 3 kids from drowning. A shooting cut his own life short

The 17-year-old was shot and killed January 29 by a 16-year-old in Upper Darby, near Philadelphia, police said. Anthony Jr. had been at a Philadelphia Eagles playoff watch party, his parents said. The shooter told police the gun accidentally went off while being passed around during an Instagram live stream, CNN affiliate WPVI reported, though Anthony Jr.’s parents say they don’t believe any such live stream encounter even happened.

The next day, the suspect surrendered on third-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, weapons and other related charges, police said. He was charged as an adult and bail set, they said. CNN has reached out to Upper Darby Police for more information.

Anthony Jr.’s parents still don’t know the relationship between their child and the suspect, if any. And they realize they may never know all that led up to the death of their son – now among more than 1,300 children and teens killed by a gun in 2023 in the US, according to the Gun Violence Archive, as firearms surpassed motor vehicles in 2020 as the No. 1 killer of children and teens in America.

“This, at all, is not worth it,” Anthony Sr. said, “And I just don’t understand. We lost a son. The person that (shot Anthony Jr.), … their parents lost a son. So, that’s two lives gone for nothing. Why?”

Still, Ava Alexander – Anthony Jr.’s stepmother – and Anthony Sr. say they can feel their late son’s presence and his spirit guiding them every day as they pass from room to room in their home.

It’s those memories – their child helping Anthony Sr. move around the house as he battled multiple myeloma last year, Taco Tuesdays together in the dining room, New Year’s Eves with all the siblings allowed to stay up late and graze on Alexander’s lovingly prepared spread – that stop the couple from selling the home.

More about Anthony Alexander Jr.

  • Died January 29
  • Age 17
  • Shot by a 16-year-old as teens and young adults were gathered around 5 p.m. at an apartment, police said
  • Suspect surrendered and was charged with third-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and weapons and other related offenses, police said. Prosecutor deferred questions to a defense attorney, who did not respond to CNN
  • Anthony Jr. brought everyone together with his humor, his family says. He was a peacemaker who fostered a special relationship with everyone he came in contact with – even strangers, as he showed when he helped rescue three children from an icy pond in Upper Darby in February 2022. Anthony Jr. was named a Congressional Medal of Honor Society 2023 Young Hero Awardee for his bravery that day, an accomplishment Ava and Anthony Sr. call a testament to his caring nature.

    “He was just one in a million,” Ava said.

    He was the type of guy who could fill any awkward silence with hours of conversation, switching from topic to topic at a moment’s notice, said one of his older sisters, Courtney Tyler. The last time they spoke, Anthony Jr. had asked Tyler’s opinion on skin care – a frequent topic they’d bond over.

    Anthony Alexander Jr.'s first day of seventh grade

    “Anthony was indeed my favorite,” she said. “He was just like a little deer just in the world, not even really understanding the world but just happy to be here.”

    Anthony Jr. was also her toddler’s favorite uncle.

    The little one “always asks about Anthony, even now, to this day: Where is Anthony? Where is Anthony, Mommy?”

    “Oh, he’s in heaven now,” she tells him. “I’m sorry.”

    Anthony Jr.’s eldest brother by seven years, Davir Tyler, remembers feeling his youngest brother kick from inside their mother’s belly and thinking their mom was playing a prank on him – only to find out it was Anthony Jr. saying hello.

    Read other profiles of children who’ve died from gunfire

    “He was the most cutest baby ever: always smiling, those big-ol’ marble eyes, that wide, toothless smile,” said Tyler, who “just wanted him to be happy, healthy, positive and secure.”

    With an uncle who’s a firefighter and an older sister who served in the Marines, Anthony Jr. had plans to follow suit in similar lines of service, his parents said. His interests stretched far and wide as he tried his hand at football, basketball, karate and swimming – even encouraging others in his life to let him give them lessons.

    “He never liked to see people sad,” Courtney Tyler said. “He was always trying to lift people up and be happy.”

    On September 8, Anthony Jr. would have celebrated his 18th birthday and been given a car Anthony Sr. had reserved for him, just as he’d done for his other children. Instead, his family and friends released balloons in his honor, and the 2008 BMW remains in his grandmother’s driveway.

    Anthony Alexander Sr. and Ava Alexander

    To honor “a life unfinished,” as they say, relatives are working to establish a foundation and revamp a community center in Anthony Jr.’s name. And the local government will install a bench at the pond in Collingdale where he rescued the three children, his parents said.

    The Alexander family also plans to rebuild and display one of Anthony Jr.’s favorite toys – an extensive Lego train set. One block at a time, they will recreate it just how their son did, as they also try to piece together their lives with a missing block of their heart.

    Sumber: www.cnn.com

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