EAST HARLEM — Heartbroken friends and relatives of a 15-year-old high school student who died after slipping off a guardrail and falling into the Harlem River remembered the boy as a bright student and generous friend who loved sports at his funeral Monday.
Justin Smith, 15, was walking on the guardrail along the promenade near East 102nd Street with two friends just after 8 p.m. Saturday when he lost his footing, slipped, and plunged into the choppy waters below, police said.
Paramedics were unable to resuscitate him and he was declared dead at Metropolitan Hospital, officials said.
"We appreciate the support," Smith's father, who asked that his name not be used, said before the service. "We are finite creatures."
Dozens of loved ones later bid a tearful goodbye to Smith — one of 12 siblings in a tight-knit Muslim family — at the boy's funeral at the Islamic Cultural Center of New York on Third Avenue near 96th Street.
Smith was a ninth-grade student at Life Sciences Secondary School on the Upper East Side, where he had earned a reputation as a talented, kind student, with an aptitude for the arts, sports and academics, teachers and classmates said.
"He was a very bright, young man," said Ayaba Bailey, Smith's math teacher. "He was responsible. He was a good student."
"He was loved by his classmates," Bailey added. "Justin would come in with a smiling face and would get right to work. He was always very helpful."
Pal Raddell Louallen, 15, said Smith was hoping to try out for the school's varsity basketball team next year.
"I taught him everything he knows about basketball," he said. "I went hard on him. He was good. His jump shot was great. He'd shoot threes like they were layups."
Friends said Smith also played as an outfielder on the school's baseball team.
His aunt Robin Francis, 54, remembered her nephew as an artist who loved to write.
"He was a very nice, smart quiet kid. Very, very smart. Very respectful. It's such a sad day," Francis said. "He was extremely lovable, extremely nice."
"He was very artistic with drawing and writing. He liked to write. It's just a very, very sad day for me."
His cousin, Chanel Jordan, said he adored his family, too.
"Words can't even explain how brilliant and beautiful he was to his family," she said.
And Esha Williams, 26, a family friend who lives in the Smiths' building, said the boy was generous.
''He comes from a loving family. If he could try to help you, he'd help you," Williams said. "If you tried to tell him something, he would always listen.''
The school put a counseling team in place to help students cope with Smith's death, an Education Department spokeswoman.
The city Medical Examiner was still working to determine a cause of death, a spokeswoman said Monday.