High school students, some wearing blue and white football jerseys, gathered around Fayaadh Gillard at Penn’s Landing, literally holding him up so he did not collapse to the ground.
Before breaking into sobs, Fayaadh, 18, led the group of students and faculty from Mastery Charter School Lenfest Campus in chanting “Long live Su, long live Su, long live Su.” Then they released blue balloons into the cloudy sky above the bank of the Delaware River.
“We love you, Fay,” many of the students said softly.
The vigil Wednesday afternoon, which drew close to 100 members of the senior class and their teachers, was for Suhail Gillard, Fayaadh’s twin brother, whom police say he shot to death Sunday in an Overbrook apartment.
Those who know the Gillard brothers, both football players at Mastery Charter, said that the shooting was an accident and that the brothers loved each other.
“I love Fayaadh,” Justin Hall, 18, one of the four team captains and an offensive lineman, said before the mourners marched from the school on South Fourth Street to Penn’s Landing. “Fayaadh is still a brother to me. Fayaadh is a great man."
Fayaadh was charged with murder, possession of an instrument of crime, unsworn falsification to authorities, and obstructing justice. Bail Commissioner Cateria R. McCabe granted him bail of $125,000, and he was released after paying 10% of that amount on Tuesday, court records show. Police gave the 1100 block of Harrison Street in Frankford as the brothers’ home address.
In Pennsylvania, murder charges prohibit bail, but those charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter are eligible for bail. A court source said the murder charge in this case is likely to be changed to third-degree murder or manslaughter. The District Attorney’s Office did not respond to a call seeking comment.
The shooting that shattered the Gillard family and the brothers’ Old City school happened when the two were in an apartment in the 1100 block of North 63rd Street, police said. Officers were called there at 5:23 p.m. for a report of a person with a gun, and found Suhail with a gunshot wound to the chest. They took him to Lankenau Medical Center, where he died at 9:08 p.m.
A court source said relatives were present during the shooting, including the brothers’ father, who had been showing them how to handle a gun.
The shooting devastated the school, its principal said Wednesday.
“This has been an immense tragedy,” said Chris Ziemba. “Suhail was a beloved student. He was an amazingly strong member of our community. He got along with everyone. He stood up for everyone. He was extremely bright. So capable. He was amazing on the football field. He had an amazingly bright future ahead of him.”
John Davidson, Mastery’s football coach, said Suhail excelled as a running back and had a handful of college prospects.
“No one at the age of 18 should lose their life. That’s too young. There are things he had yet to experience the pleasure of — being a young man and college athlete. There’s really no words,” Davidson said.
Members of Mastery’s football team, who led the march to Penn’s Landing, encircled Fayaadh afterward in front of the school and walked him to a waiting relative’s car.
Trenton Williams, 18, a team captain and wide receiver, said Suhail was like a brother whom he’d known since seventh grade, and with whom he often dreamed of playing in college and the pros. “He always motivated me to be bigger,” said Williams. “When I was about to give up on football, he was rushing to my phone, rushing to my crib, telling me not to give up on football and how much he really loved me.”
Williams said the shooting left him “heartbroken. I know Fayaadh didn’t do it on purpose. I know it was an accident. That’s his twin. His twin would never do that. They had much love for each other. I just cried my eyes out.”
“I’d never think in a million years that I’d be having this conversation about Suhail,” said DaiShawn Tilghman, 18, a team captain and defensive lineman. “He was a real genuine person. I really never thought that Suhail would be out of my life, you feel me?”