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Family, friends gather to remember teen killed by friend while playing with guns in University City

Family, friends gather to remember teen killed by friend while playing with guns in University City

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UNIVERSITY CITY • Alvin Sanders Jr. dreamed of playing college basketball once he graduated from University City High School.

The dream was cut short for the 17-year-old. He was killed Saturday in an accidental shooting while he and a friend were playing with guns at his home in 6600 block of Bartmer Avenue, not far from the park where more than 100 people gathered Monday night to remember the charismatic teenager.

“He’s gone too soon for him to fulfill that dream,” his father, Alvin Sanders Sr., said after the vigil in Kingsland Park. “I’m gonna miss my baby so much.

“They took my baby from me.”

St. Louis County prosecutors charged Dashon Gavin, 17, of north St. Louis County with involuntary manslaughter Monday. Authorities said Gavin and Sanders were playing with the weapons at Sanders’ home when the gun Gavin was using discharged, striking Sanders in the face, police said.

Police say Sanders ran from the home and collapsed at a neighbor’s house. He died at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, police said.

Gavin told police he knew his gun was loaded. And a third person witnessed the shooting, police said.

Sanders was set to graduate from University City High School in December, his mother, Laconia Adams, said. He transferred into the district in February 2016. She said Sanders has a younger brother.

Adams implored her son’s family and friends at the vigil to pursue their dreams.

“You still have a future,” she said. “Follow your dreams. Soar.

“Because it just takes one wrong decision, and things can change in a second.”

She described Gavin as a close friend of Sanders.

“This horrible time in my life was brought onto me by someone who was around me dearly,” she said. “I can never see AJ again,” she said, referring to her son by his popular nickname. “My soul is stripped from me.”

Alvin Sanders Sr. said his son, whom he described as bright and respectful, was never without his signature smile.

“I’m going to miss that smile he had on all the time,” Sanders said. “If you knew AJ you know he had the most beautiful smile.”

“AJ had an impact on everyone he met,” he said, looking over the crowd. “And I see it now. He’s looking down on us right now and he’s glad we’re out here.”

Sanders said his son was following in his footsteps on the basketball court. Sanders, who played basketball at Vashon High School, said his son was hoping to attend the University of Memphis.

The two would play each other on the court, and the younger Sanders was often the winner.

“He grew taller than me, and he started to call me ‘little dude,’” Sanders said.

University City High teen killed playing with guns

Friends and family of teenager Alvin Sanders, attend a vigil in memory of the University City High senior killed while playing with guns on Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. Sanders and friend Dashon Gavin were playing with weapons at Sanders' home Saturday afternoon when the gun Gavin was using discharged, police said. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

Sanders implored those attending the vigil to stay away from guns.

“Please, please don’t pick up no guns,” he said. “If you’re supposed to be a friend, be a friend. Just leave the guns alone.”

He said his son was too focused on his dream of playing basketball to get involved with life on the streets or own guns.

“That wasn’t him,” he said. “AJ never carried a gun. He was scared of guns.”

He said Sanders and Gavin were best friends.

“It’s a sad situation that the bullet striked him, but it did, and I’ll never be able to get my son back,” he said. “(Gavin) can learn from his mistakes. AJ can’t.”

The group ended the vigil with a moment of silence for Sanders before releasing balloons and blowing out candles. Two balloons with the letter shapes A and J floated off together into the darkening sky.

People lined up to hug and speak to Sanders and Adams, who left the vigil in tears shortly afterward. A few young attendees spelled out Alvin Sanders’ first name with lit candles on the sidewalk.

Counselors will be on hand at University City High School as long as students need them, according to a district spokeswoman.

Gavin’s bail has been set at $50,000.

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