FERNDALE — The University High School community was recently shaken by the sudden death of a student who was just a few months away from graduation.
Sammuel Lee II, a 17-year-old UHS senior, was killed when his older brother accidentally fired a handgun that struck him while inside his Highland Park home. According to Highland Park Police Detective Paul Thomas, police received a call about the shooting around 4 p.m. Feb. 19 and responded to the home, located in the 100 block of Pasadena Avenue. Paramedics attempted to revive Lee, but he was pronounced dead about 20 minutes later.
Lee had been in his bedroom playing video games with a friend at the time, Thomas explained. His 23-year-old brother was also in the room with a semi-automatic pistol that he had just purchased when it suddenly went off, striking Lee in the left side of his chest with a single shot.
“His brother was handling the gun while sitting on the bed,” Thomas said, “but it’s not exactly clear what he was doing with it. I’m sure it (the shooting) was accidental, but there’s a minor discrepancy about what actually happened.”
Thomas noted that Lee had another older brother who was killed in a 2011 Highland Park shooting that was the culmination of a feud with a few young men in the neighborhood. That incident also resulted in the wounding of an off-duty Highland Park police officer who was at the scene. At this time, that case is still making its way through the courts, Thomas said. He believes that this earlier shooting makes Lee’s death even more tragic.
“This boy’s family just lost someone to gun violence, and then this happens,” he said. “You would think that his brother would have known better than to be messing around (with a gun) after what his family has already gone through.”
While the shooting was determined to be an accident, Thomas pointed out that the case has been submitted to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, and it is likely that Lee’s brother will be charged with involuntary manslaughter.
According to Stephanie Hall, spokesperson for Ferndale Public Schools, the news of Lee’s death sent immediate ripples through the UHS community. Although the shooting took place while the district was on midwinter break, school officials opened the building Feb. 22 to allow UHS students and staff to collectively mourn the loss.
About 60 students showed up that day to remember Lee with the support of grief counselors from Common Ground Sanctuary. They also created a memory banner that was presented to Lee’s family at his funeral Feb. 28. Hall noted that the funeral was well-attended by everyone from family and friends, to UHS staff, students and graduates.
In addition, the UHS community has established a Sammuel Lee II Memorial Fund to help Lee’s family pay for the funeral expenses. Donors can contribute to the fund via the “Pay Schools” link found on the homepage of the district’s website, www.ferndaleschools.org.
Lee’s funeral marked the end of a difficult month for Ferndale Schools that also saw the passing of Erika (Dixon) Minchey — a 1993 Ferndale High School graduate who lost a battle with brain cancer Feb. 15, leaving behind a husband and four daughters — as well as the sudden passing of Melissa Balogh, a 2009 FHS graduate who died Feb. 25 from complications possibly related to an asthma attack or food allergy.
Hall said that she was impressed by the way that UHS staff and students have supported each other in the wake of Lee’s death. Still, the pain of losing a young man whose time ended far too soon will linger, she said.
“Sammuel Lee was set to graduate on his 18th birthday,” Hall noted. “He had plans to study electrical and computer engineering and had already been accepted into several colleges. He was a very good student and a very nice, well-liked young man with a bright future ahead of him.”
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