HARLEM—The mother of Annie Fryar, the 13-year-old allegedly shot to death by her half-brother while she slept, says she believes her son struggled with mental illness but never believed he would be violent against her or her daughter.
With her left arm in a black sling and a stitch over her right eye from the bullet wounds she says were inflicted by her son, Christine Brunson, 44, said she's been in a "daze" for the last week and a half.
"I lost two children in one night," said Brunson outside her daughter's wake Thursday night at Mt. Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem. "I never, ever dreamed something like this would happen."
Inside the church, Fryar lay dressed in all white surrounded by flowers. A television played pictures of moments from Fryar's short life, including one of her wearing a tiara, and others of her smiling with her mother or playing with friends.
Fryar's teenaged and pre-teen friends hugged one another as they looked down at Fryar in her casket. They left the church with looks of disbelief and tears streaming down their faces only to return a few minutes later to support new friends who had just arrived at the church for the viewing.
In the back, parents talked about grief counseling and how Fryar's friends seemed to gain strength from being together.
Teachers from P.S. 46 where Fryar was in the chorus and a member of the peer mediation team, remembered the teen as peace-loving, respectful and a good role model. Friends say that if Fryar wasn't laughing, she was always nudging them to do better, to respect one another.
"When you want to think about the right thing to do, you think about Annie," said George Young, principal of P.S. 46 for 20 years where Fryar was a seventh-grader. "Annie was not with us long but she touched the lives of everyone in this church."
Police say 28-year-old Steven Murray shot Fryar twice in the head during the early morning hours of April 24 before turning the gun on his mother and firing multiple shots. Brunson identified her son as the shooter.
Murray was spotted by police outside of the Polo Grounds Houses after the shooting. They gave chase and then engulfed Murray in a fuseliage of 84 bullets. He was hit 14 times but survived and was charged with murder and attempted murder.
Police say Brunson wanted Murray out of the apartment she shared with her daughter in the Polo Grounds Houses because he wasn't contributing and was becoming disruptive.
Fryar told a friend the day before her death that she was leaving an after school program to go home and prevent arguing between her mother and her brother. She told the friend her brother was drunk.
"Steven was sick in the head," said Brunson, originally identified by police as having the last name Fryar. She said Fryar was her married name which she no longer uses.
Grieving family members said they are at a loss to explain Murray's actions and he won't explain himself. He has refused to meet with any family members.
"We know my nephew was so wrong for what he did," said Fryar's aunt Nicole.
"It's totally wrong what he did. That's his mother and his sister," said another aunt Tracy.
The women said Brunson was a good mother who once worked on the trash collection trucks for a sanitation company. Young said Fryar, who was close to several of her teachers, never expressed a concern about problems at home.
"This child came from an excellent home and an excellent mother," he said. "She carried herself in a way that showed she believed she represented her mother and her family."
That's why many at the church said Fryar was a beloved girl with a bright future.
Brunson said her daughter loved to play little jokes on her such as tickling her skin or jumping out from a hiding place and trying to surprise her.
"She was a beautiful girl. She was my angel. She always had a smile and she liked to play a lot," said Brunson.
With her participation in the peer mediation team, Brunson said her daughter had found her calling.
"She wanted to be a lawyer. She was so smart," said Brunson.
One teacher called Fryar the "daughter I never had" while her art teacher recounted how Fryar had apologized for her behavior in class one day, giving her a hug and promising to work harder. One friend said Fryar was always telling her and her brother to stop arguing and just love one another.
The Rev. Al Taylor of Man Up in Harlem, a group that has been conducting weekly prayer walks in the Polo Grounds for more than three years, and Rev. Vernon Williams, president of the Harlem Clergy Community Leaders Coalition and Perfect Peace Ministries, urged Fryar's friends to turn her tragic death into something positive by continuing to follow her example of peace.
"I thought I had experienced it all and thought I had seen it all until I got a call about what happend to Annie," said Williams. "Let her time on earth and the way she departed have a significant impact. Let's change something today."
Fryar's friends Tamara Ramos, 13 and Joandaliz Rios, 13, both in the eighth grade, said they got the message but it was still hard.
"I'm going to miss her laugh, her walk. I'm going to miss that she didn't like drama," said Ramos
"We go in her class and her seat is empty. It's so sad because she was so young," said Rios.
Brunson said all the expressions of love for her daughter, especially from Fryar's young friends, have helped.
It's strength she's going to need because she's not yet completely healthy. Doctors still have more surgeries to perform, including removing some bullets from her hand.