PATERSON, N.J. – Hundreds of mourners gathered Friday evening for a funeral for a 12-year-old girl killed when she was hit by a stray bullet while riding a scooter in her neighborhood, and three young men faced charges in her death.
A 19-year-old who turned himself in earlier in the week pleaded not guilty Friday in the death of Genesis Rincon, while prosecutors announced that two other young men had been arrested. Family and friends of the girl packed the courtroom, many wearing "Justice for Genesis" hats and T-shirts for Jhymiere Moore's first appearance.
Hours later, some of the mourners filing past the open casket at a church in Paterson wore the same hats for her viewing. Genesis was dressed in a teal dress and tiara, and the casket was decorated with a photo of her wearing jean shorts and a tank top bearing the number 8.
"Paterson let me down," her father, Alexis Rincon, said at the funeral. "I want all this to stop. We got to stick together."
Genesis was struck in the head around 8:40 p.m. Saturday as she rode home to a family gathering. She was kept on life support until Monday when her organs were donated.
"She doesn't have to suffer in Paterson anymore," her sister Alex Rincon said, drawing applause from the congregation.
Jeffery Ellerbee, 21, was charged Friday with first-degree murder and weapons offenses, and Marshae Anthony, 19, was charged with weapons offenses. Moore pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and weapons charges.
Jason Statuto, an assistant Passaic County prosecutor, said both Moore and Ellerbee fired shots. He said Genesis was not the intended target, but that he couldn't comment on who was.
Moore's lawyer, Harley Breite, told reporters after the court hearing that Moore was not involved in the shooting but turned himself in on Tuesday because he heard through people on the street that he was a target of the investigation.
"Rather than make it appear that he had some culpability or was in some way responsible for this, he took it upon himself to say: `I am not guilty, I am not responsible for that tragedy, and I want to be an active member in this criminal justice system. I'm not going to become a second victim in this tragedy,"' Breite said.
The lawyer noted that no weapon was found on Moore. Statuto said the weapon used to kill the girl has not been found.
Ellerbee was arrested Thursday night and Anthony was arrested Wednesday, Statuto said. It wasn't immediately clear if either had an attorney.
Moore's bail was kept at $3 million, but Breite said he will file a motion to try to get that reduced. He is being held in protective custody at the Passaic County Jail because of the high-profile nature of the case.
Overall crime in Paterson is down, but there has been a dramatic increase in gun violence, acting Police Chief William Fraher said earlier this week. There were 40 nonfatal shootings in the city in 2010 compared with 53 nonfatal shootings in the city so far this year, Fraher said. He noted 125 police officers were laid off in 2011.
Breite said Moore is being used as a scapegoat for the city's violence.
"The wrongful persecution of a 19-year-old city youth is not the answer to what's going on in Paterson," he said. "One thing is for sure: The killer of that young girl was not in court today."