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Long wait for justice is rewarded

Now he will not be lost to the mists of time. Now a man who mattered so much to so many has found peace. Now all the victims of a single gunshot can see that cops do care.

Alvin Cosby was a one-man oasis, a healer in a neighborhood of hurt, a Buffalo teacher whose classroom didn't end at the school wall.

A black man with a calling and a conscience serves as a secular saint on broken streets. He is a walking testimonial of a better way. He is living proof for every young kid that dealing drugs is not the sole path to respect and riches. That is what Alvin Cosby was.

"He'd tell them, 'Look at me. You can own a house. You can have a car. And you don't have to sling drugs to get it,' " Cosby's sister, Dee, recently recalled.

Cosby was named Buffalo Teacher of the Year in 1991. His reach went beyond the classroom. He took neighborhood kids swimming and to ballgames. He started the basketball team at School 70, then bought the uniforms. He was a helping hand and a sympathetic ear to countless kids.

Although his house kept getting robbed, although friends begged him to move, Cosby never left Strauss Street. He could not leave those kids behind.

That's what got him killed. He was gunned down while arguing with a thief in his kitchen on the morning of Sept. 2, 1994.

Although there was at least one witness, a prime suspect and a $3,000 reward, no arrest ever was made. Cosby was one of a record 92 homicides that year. Police were overwhelmed. The killing of a community icon was perhaps at first filed as just another drug murder.

"He was in a war zone, trying to make a difference, and it cost him his life," said Dee Cosby, a large woman of big heart and plain words. "The part of society that is supposed to make that right, never did."

Fast-forward 12 years. New Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson formed a cold-case squad to investigate unsolved murders. Cosby's case was among the first they reopened.

The single shot that killed him claimed many victims. His students. The 9-year-old son who grew up without him. The kids he helped -- and never got the chance to help. Nobody felt his death more than Dee Cosby, the older sister who doted on him.

"I was the one who woke up my mother that day," Dee recalled, "and said, 'By the way, someone just shot and killed your youngest son in his own home.' "

Dee went from community activist with ties to the governor to a broken emotional shell. Haunted by revenge fantasies, damaged by his loss, she drifted from job to job. Only in recent years has the wound stopped bleeding.

His unsolved murder, Dee Cosby said, "sent a message to all the people who knew him that you can do something like this, to someone who devoted his life to helping kids, and nothing will happen to you."

Murder has many victims. But justice heals many wounds.

Dee Cosby, and all the people who knew or loved her brother, got a share of justice last week. The cold-case squad, led by Detective Dennis Richards, tracked leads and reinterviewed witnesses. People who were afraid to talk then, talked now. They fingered the prime suspect, career criminal Larry Walker. Police and prosecutors wanted him. God beat them to it.

Walker was shot to death last September in a barroom fight in Dunkirk.

It doesn't bring Alvin Cosby back. It brings those who knew him some solace.

"I feel better, knowing that [Walker] is no longer with us," Dee Cosby said. "It's comforting to know he is not roaming the planet doing damage anymore."

Alvin Cosby would have been 47 years old this month. Now he can rest in peace. Now all of those who loved him, and all of the kids he helped, finally have some peace of mind.

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com

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