The Lakewood football team and the Lancers community are mourning the loss of 17 year-old Khalil Saleem, who was killed Saturday while playing basketball with friends at Silverado Park. Saleem and two men were shot Saturday afternoon during a gunfight between a gunman in a car and another at the courts, according to the Long Beach Police Department.
The other two shooting victims were left with non-life-threatening injuries, but Saleem was hospitalized in critical condition and later succumbed to his injuries.
Lakewood football head coach Justin Utupo said his team was grieving the loss of Saleem, and will be meeting this afternoon (with LBUSD grief counselors present) to pray as a team and to talk about Khalil.
“We were devastated, I’m devastated–we’re all just shocked,” said Utupo. “He’s so young, he was at the park. It’s a horrible tragedy.”
Saleem transferred to Lakewood two years ago from Rancho Verde, and was unable to play during his junior season due to transfer eligibility issues, according to Utupo. But in a sign of high character, Saleem still came to practice every day and worked hard, even knowing that he wouldn’t be able to take the field that season.
“What stood out to me the most was he still came to practice even though he knew he couldn’t play, he still pushed to make his teammates better,” said Utupo. “He was a really talented DB and he pushed our receivers group to the next level last year. But that really speaks to his character. He was a really good player and he just never had a chance to play.”
Utupo said that Saleem wasn’t with the team this year as he was making up credits to allow him to graduate on time.
“He was on track to graduate and I know there were great things coming his way,” said Utupo.
Saleem may not have been on the Lancers’ roster this year, but he was still part of the program, something that was obvious from the dozens of posts made by Lancers players after they found out that Saleem had been wounded.
“I was watching the Jaguars game, and when it ended I saw on the news there was a shooting at Silverado and three people had been shot,” said Utupo. “If you work with kids you see that and just hope and pray for anyone in that situation and hope it wasn’t someone you know. That night I started seeing some of our players posting pictures of him on social media, and then I started seeing ‘RIP’ and ‘Long Live Khalil.’ I was just praying that it wasn’t true and that he’d bounce back.”
One of Lakewood’s team moms was with the family when Saleem passed, and Utupo said at that point he sent out the message on the team’s social media account letting everyone know that he was gone.
“He had younger brothers and sisters and they came with him to a practice, all he could talk about was how his younger siblings were going to be stars,” said Utupo. “That’s who he was–he loved his little brothers and sisters. He wanted what was best for everyone around him.”
Utupo said that plans for a memorial or a team gathering are still pending and will be discussed at today’s team meeting.