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Man fatally shot outside Niagara Street pizzeria was local drummer, dancer

The night before Thapelo Hill was taken off life support, after doctors determined that the gunshot wounds to his head had left him brain-dead, more than 4o of his friends and family who had been keeping vigil at Erie County Medical Center offered up a celebration of the young man's life.

In a small performance space in a staff cafeteria, they formed a drum circle and danced.

"It was a spontaneous thing," said Hill's father, Michael.

It was a fitting tribute for Buffalo's latest homicide victim, a 22-year-old man with a special talent for African drumming, dancing and acting, his family said.

"I felt like the desire to honor his life and lift up his life is consistent with who he is," Michael Hill said. "I was very, very happy, and very proud, to see people respond that way."

Thapelo Hill died Tuesday, five days after he was shot outside a Niagara Street pizzeria.

According to police, Thapelo Hill had just exited Pizza Town at 859 Niagara, between Massachusetts Avenue and Rhode Island Street, a little before 9 p.m. Dec. 14 when he "engaged in a verbal argument" with another person. Hill was shot several times in the head. He was driven in a private vehicle to Sisters Hospital and he was later transported by ambulance to ECMC, police said.

No arrests have been made. Police asked anyone with information about the shooting to call or text the Buffalo Police Department confidential TIPCALL line at 716-847-2255.

On Wednesday, his family remembered Hill as a "beautiful spirit" who was passionate about the arts and was well-liked by many.

His parents, Michael and Kefi Hill, decided to donate his organs.

Hill was born and raised in Buffalo. His name Thapelo (pronounced Tah-pel-o) Imani translate to prayer and faith, Michael Hill said. "A good way to go through life," he said.

Hill was raised by his parents with a mix of Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. "As a boy, he challenged them all," his father recalled.

He was home-schooled and grew up performing on stage.

"The child I know was a beautiful spirit," said Lorna Hill, Thapelo's stepmother, who is the founder and artistic director of Ujima Theatre Company. "He was a drummer, a dancer, an actor, a carpenter. He loved working with his hands."

Hill has been performing in Ujima productions since he was 3, his stepmother said. In November, he was in a production of "Free Fred Brown!" staged at the Paul Robeson Theatre on Masten Avenue.

"To meet him was to love him," Lorna Hill said.

Michael Hill said he saw his son just a few hours before the shooting. Nothing seemed to be amiss, he said.

The family doesn't know why someone would want to shoot him in the head.

"He's not deserving of that," his father said.

"All I can tell you is that it doesn't make sense," said his older brother, Amilcar Hill. His brother was strong-willed and had a quick temper but had never been involved in something like this before. "There was some form of argument and my brother got shot."

Amilcar Hill decried the violence that took his brother's life.

"I'm a firm believer that gun violence is senseless and something I believe we as a community and society and the human race can totally get away from. I do have faith that's in our capacity. People don't have to die from gun violence," Amilcar Hill said.

Michael Hill said his son had friends all over the city and may have been too open, too naive, about who he associated with. "Maybe that made him vulnerable," the father said.

The father hopes the police will find whoever shot his son. He's also worried about the impact on the other young men in his family.

"I'm concerned," he said. "The trauma ripples out. ... There has to be a healing."

The family is planning on honoring Hill's life soon after the new year, they said.

"We will celebrate his life in a very large way," his brother said.

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