Khaseen Morris, all of 16 years old, was not alone as he lay mortally wounded on a sidewalk in an Oceanside strip mall two weeks ago.
"I saw young people with him," said Steven Ballin, who had pulled his car into the mall parking lot to find a number he needed to make a business telephone call.
Two, or maybe three, were kneeling beside Morris. "They were touching him, touching his face," Ballin, 71, said.
"I could hear them" Ballin said. "They were saying, 'Stay with us, stay with us.'"
Last Tuesday, Ballin was among those gathered in the Oceanside High School auditorium to hear Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder answer questions and clear up the rumors sprouting online.
Ryder also was to address comments made by Nassau Police Det. Lt. Stephen Fitzpatrick, the department's chief of homicide, who, after the slaying, had said, "Kids stood here and didn't help Khaseen. They'd rather video.”
With Fitzpatrick's remarks, a narrative about a group of Long Island kids who'd rather shoot videos than offer help morphed into a national story — a wave of sensationalism that came uncomfortably close to obscuring what happened at that strip mall.
From the front of the high school auditorium last Tuesday, Ryder said he would share as much information as he could, without compromising the investigation.
Ryder said a group of young men had driven from Long Beach — some 17 or so minutes away -— "here, to the parking lot" in Oceanside.
Authorities got the first reports of a fight at a strip mall on Brower Avenue at 3:46 p.m. on Sept. 16, he said.
The reports weren't that a fight started or that one was ongoing, Ryder stressed, but that what had been a brief skirmish was breaking up.
The first police units arrived in 2 minutes, 29 seconds, and the first ambulances in 2 minutes, 41 seconds, he said.
Ryder said there were 20 people in the parking lot, adults and teenagers, as opposed to the initial police estimate of 50 to 70 young people.
"A lot of kids stayed," Ryder clarified.
"A lot of kids stopped," he said, "and helped us."
Police have several videos, Ryder said, and are "using them in this case."
Authorities believe there are more.
Fourteen calls, Ryder said, came in to the county's 911 center.
Seven of those were "instantly answered;" two of the next five callers "hung up," but authorities later called them back, Ryder said.
Some 911 callers went to a holding queue, Ryder acknowledged, "but we know the calls … coming through are on the same issue."
For years, the Nassau Civil Service Employees Association has complained about staff cuts at the county's 911 call center. Earlier last Tuesday, the union's president, Jerry Laricchiuta, had brought the issue up before Nassau County lawmakers again.
During the question and answer period at the Oceanside High forum, a woman asked about online rumors of gang involvement — because some at the scene had attempted to hide their faces by tying purple-and-black bandanas below their eyes.
"There is not gang related," Ryder replied. "And you do not have a gang problem in Oceanside."
A few minutes and a few more queries later, Ryder called on a man seated toward the back of the auditorium, on the right side.
It was Ballin.
"I was there," he told Ryder.
"I can say that what he said is correct," he told the crowd.
" … Whew," Ryder said, as the audience laughed.
In interviews last week, Ballin said he saw one group of young people in the parking lot heading toward a young man.
"I didn't know whether they were trying to sneak up on a friend, you know, the way kids do, or what," he said.
The next thing Ballin knew, fists were flying and one young man was being thrown to the ground.
Ballin, who had been on hold for his business call, immediately hung up to dial 911.
But he couldn't get through. Ballin didn't try again, he said, "because people around me were saying they got through."
By the time he got out of his car, Ballin said, the fight was over and the group he had seen in the parking lot was gone.
"It didn't seem like it at the time, but everything went so quick," he said.
Ballin said he walked over to check on one young man who was lying, hurt, in the parking lot.
"Someone had put a backpack under his head," Ballin said.
"I told him help was on the way and he nodded, but didn't talk," Ballin said. "He was in shock, I think, and in a lot of pain."
Ballin later walked the short distance over to the strip mall sidewalk, where Morris, he said, was falling in and out of consciousness.
Morris "was surrounded by two — maybe three? — young people," Ballin recalled.
"They were kneeling, they were trying to comfort him, they were slapping his face and trying to keep him awake," he said.
"Stay with me," Ballin said he heard individual teens calling out to Morris, over and over.
"Stay with me."
Someone had gone into a business, and returned to the sidewalk with napkins, which Ballin said he saw on Morris's chest.
At one point, a young man who had been leaning over Morris stood up, Ballin said.
"He had blood on his shirt," Ballin said.
By then police were beginning to arrive.
Ballin said he then circled back to the parking lot, to the other victim, who police later would say had a broken arm and swelling to his head.
As the first of several ambulances began to arrive, Ballin said, he told the young man that help was on the way.
"I told him, 'They are going to need to care for another student who was hurt really bad first,'" Ballin recalled.
"Don't worry," Ballin said he told the young man, "they'll be coming to help you, too."