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Death Notice Guestbook

Obituary: Garry Lee / Plans for a music career end with gunfire

Sunday, April 30, 2000

By Mike Rosenwald, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Garry Lee wanted to be a music producer. He wanted a long life with his girlfriend, whom he had been dating more than a year. He wanted to continue his religious upbringing and his strong, undying belief in God.

And he also wanted to learn karate.

So about a month ago, he and his best friend, George Thomas II, enrolled in classes at C.S. Kim School of Karate in Beaver County. They were diligent in their training, particularly Mr. Lee, whose efforts were described by his instructor, Marcus Murtaugh, as being "sincere and genuine."

The pair didn't have lessons on Friday, but Mr. Lee and his buddy decided to go practice on their own. It was the first time they had done such a thing.

Richard Baumhammers showed up, too.

Police say he walked into the school, pointed the gun at Thomas, decided not to fire, and then shot Mr. Lee multiple times. This was the apparent end to what police suspect was a two-county, racially motivated shooting spree that left five people dead and another critically wounded.

Thomas is white, Mr. Lee black.

The people in Mr. Lee's life -- his mother and grandmother, who live side by side in duplexes, his girlfriend, friends he worked with, his karate instructor -- were all trying to make sense of his death yesterday. What they were finding, they said, was that there was no sense to it at all.

Mr. Lee, 22, grew up on Griffith Street in Aliquippa with his mother, Zetta, and sister, Lazett. His grandmother, Ruth Lee, lived in the other half of the duplex. His mother and grandmother were together raising the two children, and much of their rearing took place just across the street at the Church in the Round, a Pentecostal congregation.

"Everyone in our family was raised in the church," his mother said. "I used to make him go all the time when he was younger. Then he started going on his own."

Mr. Lee was a big guy, 6 feet and heavyset, like a big bear. He was not imposing. His mother said he was a "quiet, gentle, likable young man."

"I'm quite sure," she said, "that anyone you talk to will say that they loved Garry."

Maxine Henry lives across the street from the Lees and has known the family for many years. She loved Garry.

"He was just a nice young fellow," Henry said. "You know, a lot of young people don't speak to you anymore, but he always made sure to say hello from across the street. He'd yell over and ask how I was doing."

Mr. Lee graduated from Aliquippa High School in 1996. He had dreams of becoming a big-time music producer, often recording rap songs at studios with his friends. Mr. Lee wouldn't sing very much -- he'd play the beats and write the lyrics. His words, his mother said, were always nonviolent.

In the meantime, Mr. Lee was working as a stock boy at the Giant Eagle in Leetsdale. His mother has worked at the same store for more than 25 years.

Yesterday, employees there were wearing red and black ribbons. Black because it was his favorite color. Red, in memory of his death. And red and black together because they were the school colors at Aliquippa High.

Jessica Warren started working with Mr. Lee at Giant Eagle more than a year ago. She knew who Mr. Lee was but never really got close to him until they were both going through separate break-ups.

"I remember thinking that I had never met anyone like him," said Warren, who is 19. "He was just so sweet and gentle.

"We loved going to the movies together and playing miniature golf. We rented movies, too, and sat on the couch and watched them together. We had fun together."

On Friday, the day Mr. Lee died, it was a year and three months to the day that the two became boyfriend and girlfriend. Mr. Lee worked in the morning and went over to Warren's home in Leet afterward, to say happy anniversary and that he loved her. Then he made arrangements to work out with his buddy at the karate school.

When he got to the school, he put on the customary martial arts uniform: a plain white top, plain white pants. He was practicing with Thomas when Baumhammers walked in the door.

This was around 3 p.m. Back on Griffith Street, Zetta Lee hadn't heard what had happened. She was getting her hair done.

By 5 p.m. she was sitting on the porch waiting for her son to come home.

"He was the type of kid who would be home when he said he'd be home," his mother said. "He said he would be home after karate practice."

Visitation for Mr. Lee will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Church in The Round of the Church of God in Christ, Griffin Street, Aliquippa. The funeral will be there at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

Funeral arrangements are under the direction of Gooden and Brown Funeral Home, Aliquipppa.

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