Grief Turns to Frustration in Mysterious Case of Missing Harlem Teen Found Dead
By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — The mood at the Bronx High School that Gregory Willis Jr. attended has changed with every new development in the story of the missing 17-year-old who was found dead Sunday.
"It's gone from sad to angry and now frustrated. A lot of the kids and staff are angry that we don't know what happened to this young man. It's becoming one of those unsolved mysteries," said Vern Ram, Willis Jr.'s guidance counselor at the Celia Cruz High School of Music.
Willis Jr., described by friends and family as a quiet homebody, was last seen leaving his apartment at the Abraham Lincoln Houses at 2120 Madison Ave. about 4 p.m. on Jan. 19.
His aunt said it was unusual for her nephew to stay out past 4:30 p.m. so his mother, a secretary for the Board of Education, knew something was wrong when she returned from work and he was not home.
The family mounted a search, created fliers and created a Facebook page dedicated to finding the teen. But on Sunday, police received a 911 call from a woman reporting a body face down in the snow behind 2140 Madison Ave., just a few hundred yards from where Willis Jr. lived with his mother and younger brother. The Facebook page to help find the missing teen became one to "love and support" Willis' family and friends.
Those who knew Willis Jr. were left wondering what happened to the young man, who loved to play the flute, clarinet and sing and wanted to be a music teacher some day.
"I'd rather not speculate. His parents need this time to grieve and we should wait for authorities to make the proper determination," said William Rodriguez, the founding principal of Celia Cruz High School of Music. "But there was nothing here at all that we could point out. This is a real mystery."
Police say there were no signs of trauma on Willis' body. The Medical Examiner's Office says the autopsy was inconclusive and further tests to determine the cause of death are pending.
Those who saw Willis last say there were no signs that he was upset, distressed or despondent. Family members say the loss of Willis' father three years ago was tough but that he had recovered.
"He was as normal as me or you," said Willis' aunt Kashinda Cabble.
Ram said that Willis was doing poorly in a couple of his classes but he saw a quiet determination in the young man to turn things around. Willis had a plan for his future, Ram said.
"He was a struggling in some classes but he was a hard worker and he was on track to graduate. He needed two more Regents exams and he was determined to get it done. He was always the type to start off slowly but ended up pretty well," said Ram. "He had the potential. He was a bright young man who would have done well for himself."
Rodriguez said there are plans for a memorial at the school. Students and staff were informed of the news yesterday and counselors were available for students who needed to talk.
"This comes as such a shock to our school community. Now we are hoping this gets sorted out as to why this happened," said Rodriguez.