Isayah Muller had just graduated from high school, a gregarious football star on his way to a fresh start in college.
But an argument over a celebratory gift cost him his life: The 19-year-old was fatally stabbed during a fight between his father and two parking attendants he thought had stolen expensive cologne from the backseat of the family's car.
His father pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and weapons possession Wednesday, accused of instigating the fight and hitting one of the attendants with a shovel, prosecutors said. The wound required at least 10 stitches and the argument was captured on video surveillance, prosecutors said. The father agreed to testify before a grand jury weighing evidence on whether the parking attendants should face charges. His lawyer didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.
The family had parked the car in a Bronx parking lot Tuesday morning and walked over to a nearby Lehman College, where seniors at Harry S. Truman High School were graduating. Muller was the star running back who led Truman to the Public Schools Athletic League championship this year. He was headed to Nassau Community College in the fall.
Following the ceremony, the family picked up its car and headed for dinner on City Island, a fishing hamlet on the northeastern tip of the Bronx. On the way, the father, Andre Muller, noticed the cologne missing from their vehicle, turned the car around and headed back to the parking lot.
When he arrived, he started arguing with the two lot attendants and hit one, Ramon Hernandez, with a shovel, police said. When Isayah Muller came out to help his dad, he was stabbed in the chest, police said. It's not clear who stabbed Muller.
The father and son raced back to the car, where his mother and girlfriend were waiting and drove him to a clinic. The teen was later taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly before 6 p.m., police said.
The 19-year-old's Facebook page portrayed him as a fun-loving but hardworking sports fan. Friends and family posted how proud they were that he was planning to go to college.
His former coach John-James Shepherd said the family was making funeral arrangements. He said both his parents were incredibly supportive of their child's school activities.
"In Bronx public schools, you don't often see mom and dad both involved," Shepherd said. "The parents were very supportive. They're family-oriented, working-class people."
On Wednesday morning, his teammates spread the word on Facebook that they were holding a vigil on the Truman High School football field. The coach spoke to The Associated Press just after attending the tribute, where the students assembled for prayers and lit candles in the field that formed a "21" _ Muller's jersey number.
Shepherd had been up all night, visiting with surviving players "who were having a difficult time with it."
"He would walk into a room and light it up. It's a cliche, but it's true in this case," Shepherd said.
Shepherd, who started coaching in 1999, said Muller was the best running back he'd ever seen at the high school level. Muller was headed for Nassau County Community College because his grades were not especially high, but the coach said he was sure Muller would have ended up in college's Division I _ and possibly the NFL _ eventually.
Muller rushed for 285 yards during the high school championship game in November, which Truman won 23-20 over Beach Channel. Quarterback Xavier Hamilton said Muller was the team's go-to guy.
"To him, there's no such thing as pressure," Hamilton told ESPN's high school report. "You put the ball his hands and it's like he's in a zone. You look in his eyes and there's no reflection. He just gets the ball and does what he has to do."
Muller ran the last five plays of the November game. According to ESPN, "He not only carried the ball, but also his entire team."
"I really wasn't tired," Muller told ESPN. "This is my last game of my high school career. I didn't want to take one step off that field. I'm still not tired. I could play the whole game all over again."
Associated Press Writer Verena Dobnik contributed to this report.