Jeremiah Myers was everyone’s kid.
He had a smile that could light up a room. He loved playing basketball, being a leader, and making others laugh. Friends and relatives say the 11-year-old boy—known as “JJ”—dreamed of becoming a firefighter.
For the last six years, JJ belonged to the Boys & Girls Club in Troy, New York, where staff and fellow members spent Thursday mourning his death.
“He was one of our stars,” said Hollyanne Buntich, whose son played basketball at the Troy Boys & Girls Club alongside JJ.
“He had the biggest, most infectious smile and laugh that you would ever hear,” Buntich told The Daily Beast. “Whenever he would see another kid that would be down or upset, he’d walk up to them and wrap his arms around them.”
“He had surrogate families at the club,” she added. “So many mothers consider him their son. So many kids consider him a sibling. So many men here consider him a son. We all did our best just to love him, and it’s a huge loss.”
On Thursday, police named JJ as one of the victims in a gruesome quadruple homicide. Also killed were his 5-year-old sister, Shanise; his mother, 36-year-old Shanta Myers; and Myers’ girlfriend, 22-year-old Brandi Mells.
Their bodies were found in their Second Avenue basement apartment on the day after Christmas. All four victims were bound and their throats were cut, law enforcement sources told the Albany Times Union.
On Wednesday, Troy police chief James Tedesco described the killings as “savage” and “the worst we’ve experienced.”
“After being in this business for almost 42 years, I can’t describe the savagery of this. I don’t have the word,” Tedesco told reporters.
As the Troy community mourns these tragic deaths, authorities are piecing together a timeline and awaiting the results of autopsies.
Tedesco said the victims were found dead around 12:50 p.m. Tuesday, after a property manager conducted a welfare check at the Victorian home and called police.
Cops have not released a motive or manner of death, nor any persons of interest.
Still, Tedesco said the slayings were no random act based on “factors that we uncovered during the investigation.”
The chief asked the public for assistance in nabbing the killer, or killers.
“We’re talking about the tragic taking of four lives here… I can only ask if you know anything at all, even if you think it’s insignificant but you feel it’s something out of the ordinary, please call us,” Tedesco said.
The horrific slayings brought back memories of another quadruple homicide, just 16 miles west in Guilderland. Jin Chen, 39, and his wife, Hai Yan Li, 38, and their 7- and 10-year-old sons, Eddy and Anthony, were found stabbed and bludgeoned inside their suburban home. The case remains unsolved.
On Wednesday and Thursday, mourners of the Myers-Mells family grappled with losing four loved ones in a single day.
“The thing is me and my family aren’t the only ones that lost somebody yesterday. Troy is hurting right along beside of us,” wrote Khalif Coleman, a nephew of Shanta Myers.
“Jj was a known soul. He was a beautiful, weird but an amusing spirit to watch. That kid wanted to be a Fireman and to see how much Troy knew him from being apart & around the community that he was. It touches my heart…”
On Thursday, the Troy Boys & Girls Club launched a GoFundMe page to help pay for funeral and memorial costs for the family.
Another family friend, America Ray, created her own GoFundMe for the Myers family. Ray declined to speak to reporters, but wrote about Shanta on Facebook.
Shanta Myers worked at Joseph’s House, a shelter and homeless services center in Troy, and loved to cook and be with her children, Ray wrote. Myers also has a surviving son, Isaiah, who does not live at the home.
The Myers family lived in a Troy apartment until a recent eviction prompted them to move in with Mells, Coleman told the newspaper. Because the apartment was too small for the whole family, Isaiah moved in with a relative.
“He’s the only one left,” Coleman told the Gazette.
Jonah Hatter, who worked at the Boys & Girls Club, said Isaiah would often walk home with JJ after they played basketball at the youth center.
JJ was immensely popular not by choice, but because he was one-of-a-kind, Hatter said. “I remember … one friend was trying to act out in a certain way and JJ just saying to him, ‘Hey, bro, don’t do that. You’re trying to put on a show for other people. Just be yourself,’” Hatter recalls.
“He had a really bright future, whether it was in basketball or in another realm,” Hatter told The Daily Beast. “His perspective and outlook on every situation he was involved with … that was the brightest thing that could have set him off in the future.”
Sometime around 2011, Myers moved to the Capital Region from North Carolina, the New York Post reported. The father of her children lives in Charlotte, Facebook posts show.
She recently worked as a bus monitor for Troy schools, the Rev. Jackie Robinson told the Associated Press.
“People are very nervous, very concerned that the person who did this crime is still loose,” said Robinson, a member of the African American Pastoral Alliance. “We’re talking about organizing a meeting and inviting the whole community to come and share their concerns, with counselors to try to relieve people of stress and anxiety.”
As news broke of a possible murder on Second Avenue, Myers’ family prayed their worst fears wouldn’t come true.
“I’m so nervous. Lord father i ask you to please let it not be my family, that was found in the 158 apartment,” wrote one relative, Precious Coleman.
The next day, she wrote, “…someone really murdered my family why just why how can you look at a 5 year old and cut her throat.”
“This is a terrible nightmare. I don’t know what to do.”
On Facebook, Brandi Mells listed JJ as her son.
The 22-year-old was a student at West Genesee High School and part of the class of 2013, but didn’t return for her senior year, Syracuse.com reported.
One Syracuse mom told The Daily Beast that Mells was best friends with her daughter when they were teenagers. Mells “was the life of the party,” she said.
“She was always smiling. If people were upset, she’d get them laughing,” said Donna, who asked that her last name be withheld for her privacy. “Just an overall wonderful, wonderful kid.”
Donna said many neighborhood teens, including those from broken homes, crashed at her house for a safe space.
“She was like one of my children,” Donna told The Daily Beast. “Just a good kid. She didn’t deserve this.”
Brandon Logan, 23, said Mells was one of his best friends in high school. He described her as a funny and outgoing person who loved to party with friends, but as someone who was also responsible.
“I was going to make plans to see her, and then I look on Facebook and see this,” Logan said. “It’s a lot to deal with right now.”
Logan said Mells had siblings who lived in New Jersey and that she may have moved to New York to be with a significant other. She wasn’t close to her family, he said.
“She was a very good person and this shouldn’t have happened to her,” Logan told The Daily Beast. “It shouldn’t happen to anyone.”