NEW YORK (AP) — About 1,000 people from all walks of life, some crying and others wearing photo-emblazoned T-shirts, gathered Friday to mourn a 6-year-old Brooklyn boy stabbed in a public housing project elevator.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, his wife and the Rev. Al Sharpton attended a private wake before the funeral of Prince Joshua Avitto, known as P.J. The line of relatives, friends and community members stretched around the block outside the St. Paul Community Baptist Church in the East New York neighborhood.
“It’s very hard for me to say how very sad I am today,” said his father, Nicholas Avitto. “Our greatest joy and pleasure was my son.”
Taj Gibson, a relative and a player for the Chicago Bulls, was there, as were the team’s coach, Tom Thibodeau, and staff from the first-grader’s school.
A photo slideshow featuring images of the smiling boy was displayed above the church’s main stage and family members dressed in white.
“We’ve come today to celebrate P.J.‘s life,” the Rev. David Brawley said. “But we must acknowledge that his life was ended way too soon.”
Among the flower arrangements placed on the altar was a Superman-themed bouquet, an ode to P.J.‘s “Superman” nickname. His body was taken out of the church in a small white casket, which was put into the hearse to go to a crematorium for a private, family-only service. White doves were released after the casket was loaded into the hearse.
On Thursday, police charged a recently released convict with murder and other crimes in the attack Sunday that killed P.J. and critically wounded his 7-year-old friend, Mikayla Capers. The church erupted in applause after Brawley disclosed that the girl had been taken out of the intensive care unit.
Police said Daniel St. Hubert is also a suspect in the Wednesday stabbing of a homeless man on a Manhattan subway platform and the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Tanaya Copeland a week ago, just blocks from the Brooklyn elevator attack. He is not charged in those crimes.
Investigators are now reviewing all stabbings citywide that have occurred since St. Hubert was freed on May 23.
St. Hubert, 27, served time for attempted murder and assault. Court records show he was arrested in May 2009 after punching his mother in the face, choking her with an electrical cord and stealing her car. He pleaded guilty in July 2012.
St. Hubert was ordered held without bail at his first court appearance late Thursday night in Brooklyn criminal court. He was brought back to court on Friday so a judge could appoint a defense lawyer.
The attorney, Edward Friedman, told reporters afterward that he had only spoken to St. Hubert briefly and declined to comment on his client’s mental condition or any other aspect of the case.
In a statement, District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said prosecutors were committed to seeking justice for the families of the children.
If convicted, St. Hubert faces a maximum 50 years to life in prison. His next court date is June 11.
Associated Press writer Tom Hays contributed to this report.