Several hundred grieving family members and friends of 16-year-old Zaire Kelly held a “Celebration of Life” vigil at the Thurgood Marshall Academy in Southeast, Washington D.C. Sept. 25 to remember a young man they described as “exceptional.”

16-year-old Zaire Kelly was fatally shot during a robbery attempt in Northeast D.C. on Sept. 20. (Courtesy Photo)

According to the Metropolitan Police Department, Kelly was attacked Sept. 20 on his way home from a College Bound class by 19-year-old Sequan Gillis near his home in Northeast D.C. Gillis, in attempting to rob Kelly of his cellphone shot the teen after Kelly stabbed him with a pocket knife. Both died at a hospital in Northwest D.C.

In a statement released to the press, Kelly’s family members expressed gratitude to the school and the Mayor Barry Youth Leadership Institute and members of the public for their condolences.

“All of us were looking forward to his senior year of high school and preparing for college at the Florida A&M University, but sadly his precious life and great potential was cut short,” the statement read in part.  “We are immensely proud of him and all that he accomplished in this short time he was here with us. His life was not lived in vain… Words cannot express the profound grief we are feeling but we are comforted knowing that Zaire was loved and respected by so many.”

Sharon Knight, a Ward 8 resident, who attended the vigil at told the AFRO that young men like Kelly find themselves under attack on almost a daily basis moving through the city and should not have to defend themselves to their deaths.

“This young man had to defend himself with a knife from some thief with a gun, when all he wanted to do was get home,” Knight said.  “We have to do a better job of protecting our communities and weeding out these ruthless and ill-bred individuals who believe pulling guns and robbing people is acceptable.”

Kelly was remembered as a confident and self-aware young man, a loving twin and track star, who mentored those around him.

“Senseless doesn’t begin to describe the crime, or the loss,” Rianna Blakely, a student at the school, told the AFRO.  “He wasn’t out there getting into trouble, he was fast-tracking to good things and then this happens… I still cannot wrap my head around it.”

After the vigil, Kelly’s family and friends gathered at the site of the robbery in the 2200 block of 13th Street.