Oswaldo Mestre Jr. believes he had the undivided attention of 50 children in the CRUCIAL Community Center on Wednesday evening, as he discouraged them from engaging in violence.
Thirty minutes later, Mestre found himself holding a dying man who had been shot in front of the same children.
"It's a tragedy," said Mestre, vice president of the center's board of directors. "The irony is I had just talked to the kids before the shooting, and the message sunk in."
Oscar K. Paris, 33, was fatally shot on the basketball court of a center that is committed to curbing violence in the crime-ridden North Fillmore neighborhood. Police said the shooting stemmed from an argument during a basketball game.
Detectives, meanwhile, have issued a pickup order for Odell Wilkins, 19, who frequents addresses on Box Avenue and French Street. Witnesses have identified Wilkins, who's known as O.J., as the young man accused of firing the fatal shot inside the gymnasium.
Mestre gathered with city officials, community activists and religious leaders in the center Thursday for a news conference to offer condolences to the victim's family and to announce that, more than ever, the center is committed to its mission.
"The purpose of this center is only amplified at times like this," said Matthew L. Brown, the city's director of intergovernmental relations and pastor of Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ.
Though violence invaded the building, officials also wanted to assure residents that the center is a haven.
"This was a random, senseless act of violence," said Mayor Anthony M. Masiello. "It's the exception, not the rule."
The center, in the former School 62 building at 230 Moselle St., opened in September with much excitement, capping a 15-year effort by the Coalition for the Redevelopment of United Community Involvement and Leadership.
Fillmore Council Member Karen R. Ellington said that since its opening, the center has been successful in helping neighborhood children, and that it will continue to do that despite the shooting.
"CRUCIAL is designed to be a safe haven, to keep the kids off the streets," she said. "We are doing positive things here. We must stick together as a community."
Charles Davis, president of the center's board of directors, said recreational activities in the center will be suspended until the board meets. The center started offering counseling to residents Thursday night. About 70 people witnessed the slaying. Mestre, who also is program director of the Buffalo Weed and Seed Program, which funds programs at the center, said the center does not have a community police officer assigned to it, but it does have a security guard, who was off Wednesday night. There were four adults supervising activities Wednesday night.
The center's evening hours are geared toward teenagers and young adults, but staff members didn't know that Paris, who looked young, was 33, Mestre said. He added that members are supposed to sign in -- with names, addresses and ages -- before entering the center.
"After (Paris) was shot, I was holding him in my hands, trying to talk to him," Mestre said. "He was drifting in and out as we waited for the police and ambulance. . . . It was surprising to find out that we are virtually the same age. My heart goes out to his family."
The mayor and other elected officials said they will explore ways to make the center safer, because it is important to the community.
"This center is a great opportunity for this area, and we want to remain committed to this area," Mestre said. "We have a lot of high hopes."