The family of a North Carolina teen who was gunned down in New Jersey late last month said he died protecting a 10-year-old boy from being shot.
Al-Tarrek Bell, 18, was found shot to death in the backseat of a car along with another man at an apartment complex in Edgewater Park, New Jersey shortly after midnight on March 27. Sadiel Gonzalez, the driver of the vehicle, was also killed in the shooting, according to county prosecutors. A child sitting next to Bell in the back seat and a passenger in the car's front seat survived the attack, according to the Courier-Post.
No other individuals were injured inside the vehicle and officials haven’t released a possible motive or indicated whether the pair were intentionally targeted.
“No arrests have been made,” Joel Bewley, a public information officer for the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office told Oxygen.com on Tuesday. “These homicides continue to be actively investigated. We have no reason to believe the general public is in any danger in connection to these fatal shootings.”
Officials declined to comment further on the ongoing investigation.
Bell’s family said the teen used his body to shield a 10-year-old boy who was in the car at the time of the shooting.
“It’s heartbreaking but I know my baby died a hero,” Bell’s mother, Izetta Howell, told the Courier-Post. “I can smile because I know he saved another person.”
The 10-year-old was identified by other relatives as Bell’s brother-in-law. Other loved ones described Bell as an “angel.”
“He put his life on the line," Jacqueline Santiago wrote on Facebook. “He shielded my son, and made sure he was safe. I will never ever, forget you!! We will keep your name alive.”
Bell’s mother described the teenager as a “good kid” and “beautiful spirit” with a “witty” sense of humor. He had 11 siblings.
“I raised him to respect people, to look at people other than himself,” Howell said. “He was his brother’s keeper, no matter what.”
Howell said that her son was an aspiring drummer and hip hop artist who one-day hoped to move to Los Angeles or Chicago to fulfill his dreams. The family is from Skinnersville, North Carolina.
“He had so many goals,” Howell said. “He started writing his music, he started to record. He just never got his chance.”
Bell had been visiting New Jersey with his girlfriend and their family at the time of the shooting, according to his mother. Bell and Gonzalez also knew each other, she said.
“He knew Sadiel through his girlfriend,” Howell said. “From what I gather, Sadiel was a very nice person.”
The grieving mother said she’s hoping authorities will soon be able to pinpoint the shooter.
“It’s hurtful,” Howell stated. “This guy took a good man away from us...With these guns, they need to put them down.”
Bell’s family has since set up GoFundMe to help raise money to cover the cost of the teen’s funeral expenses.
“It’s mainly family here and we stick together,” Howell said of her rural North Carolina community. “It’s what we do. The outpouring is amazing. I did not know my son was so loved by so many people.”