By Ben Fractenberg
HARLEM — The body of 17-year-old Gregory Willis Jr. laid in an open casket beneath a heart-shaped bouquet at the AME Church on West 135th Street Monday morning.
Family, classmates and teachers came to pay their respects to a young man they described as soft-spoken with a kind smile.
"He was a very peaceful person," said Nathaniel Paredes, 17, a close friend of Willis' and his classmate at the Celia Cruz High School of Music in the Bronx. "He was smart and he handled himself in situations. He was a joy to be around."
Paredes said Willis wanted to become a music teacher, and that the two started applying to colleges together and talked about going to the same school.
Willis' body was found on Jan. 23 face down in the snow near his home at the Abraham Lincoln Houses in Harlem, four days after he had been reported missing.
"I miss you so much. I wish this were a dream," said Willis' aunt, Shante Price, in a eulogy.
Other speakers described Willis as a "miracle baby" who was born eight weeks prematurely and survived. They talked about a young man who was very close to his mother and was happy to spend his free time at home.
Willis' mother, Sha-Sha Price, became concerned when she came home on Jan. 19 and discovered her son was not home.
She and family members posted fliers and canvassed the Lincoln Houses for days.
A few days after his disappearance, Sha-Sha Price was coming home from shopping and saw police behind her building. They later told her they had found her son's body.
At the time of the funeral, the family was still searching for answers about Willis' death. The city Medical Examiner's office has not yet determined how Willis died.
"Don’t get angry," said Willis' neighbor, Pauline, addressing the family in a speech at the funeral, "[God is] gonna reveal to you what happened to your child."