By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — Seventeen-year-old Gregory Willis Jr. had planned to go to college next year to become a music teacher. But on Sunday, four days after the teen went missing, Willis Jr.'s body was found facedown in snow not far from his Harlem home.
"He had already applied to colleges. He was a very smart kid, very polite and a gentleman who stayed to himself and even hung out with a good group of kids at school," said Willis Jr.'s grieving aunt, Shante Price, on Monday.
The cause of Willis' death is still unknown. Willis was last seen leaving his apartment at the Abraham Lincoln Houses at 2120 Madison Ave. at about 4 p.m. on Jan. 19.
Police responding to a call on Sunday at 2140 Madison Ave. found the teen's body in the snow in a secluded area behind the building. Police say there were no signs of trauma. The Medical Examiner's Office said an initial autopsy to determine the cause of death was inconclusive.
Willis' family members said the teen was a senior at Celia Cruz High School of Music in the Bronx who loved playing the flute and clarinet. He moved to Lincoln Houses with his family seven years ago from the Bronx
"He barely went out by himself. He was a homebody who was extremely close to his mom," said Kashinda Cabble, Willis' cousin.
Willis was a "miracle baby" who was born premature at 7 months, weighing 2 pounds, 10 ounces. The teen's father died three years ago after an illness.
Visitors from Willis' school and family members filed in and out of the family's apartment this morning. They shed tears and hugged one another. Willis' high school held an assembly about his death today and also had a moment of silence.
Cabble said that Willis' mother, Sha-Sha Price, works as a secretary for the Board of Education. She begin to worry last week when she returned from work and Willis wasn't at home.
"He's always in the house by 4:30 p.m. He has no history of coming home late. He was not the hang-out type of person, he did not hang out with any bad individuals and he didn't do drugs or smoke," said Cabble.
The day he went missing, friends at school and Willis' family said he was in good spirits, laughing and joking as usual.
The family put together fliers and began canvassing the Lincoln Houses complex themselves. They even searched near the building where Willis was eventually found.
2140 Madison Ave. is across the courtyard from where Willis lived with his mother and 6-year-old brother.
Sha-Sha Price was returning from the store when she saw police behind the building. They later notified her that the body they found was her son's remains.
"We posted signs in the building and in front of that building," said Shante Price. "No one thought to look behind the building."
Now family members are hoping police can provide them with some answers about what happened to Willis.
"It's so hard. He was our miracle baby, a survivor," said Shante Price.