On the eve of his wedding, things seemed to be falling into place for Sean Bell.
He was being considered for an apprenticeship at a Queens electrician's union that started in January. The entry-level position would end the months he had spent in between jobs. Over the previous year he had been a UPS driver and a milk deliveryman, but he didn't enjoy the work, friends said. He liked working with his hands and needed more income to support his family.
And after five years of dating, Bell, 23, was about to marry his girlfriend and the mother of his two children, Nicole Paultre, 22. His future father-in-law was so enthusiastic about the idea that he had promised to buy the two a house in Atlanta, should they want to go there, a cousin said.
At the same time, family members said he was getting fit again. For years he had lost touch with baseball, which he lived and breathed during high school, but now he was training for open try-outs for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the spring in Vero Beach, Fla.
A last-minute bachelor party that started on November 24 changed all that.
After he dropped off Ms. Paultre and their daughters, Jada, 3, and Jordyn, 6 months, at his mother-in-law's house, they never saw him again. Police shot Bell to death at about 4 a.m. the next morning.
In the two weeks since Bell's death, there have been marches and rallies in his name. Memorials have been erected at his old baseball field, as well as the pizzeria where he spent time after school and the spot on Liverpool Street where he died. His name has been spray-painted on t-shirts and family photos have been turned into buttons, which dozens of family members, lawyers, and politicians have worn every day.
Some believe the shooting was the symptom of an abusive and racist police department. And others, including Bell's family, Ms. Paultre, and many of Bell's friends, call the incident an individual tragedy that killed a man.
It was in that spirit that they buried him on Long Island last weekend, using the same priest and caterer for the service who had been scheduled to marry Bell and Ms. Paultre only one week before.
For many family members and friends who spoke to The New York Sun, what makes Bell's death echo in their minds is that his life ended at a moment that felt like a transition into something better.
The trip south to Atlanta was a prospect that appealed to Bell, who, friends said, had been struggling to find ways to support his family since he left Nassau Community College in 2003, after a little more than a year of classes. Nicole was pregnant with Jada, and the two moved in with her mother in Amityville, N.Y., to prepare for her birth.
"I remember the night when he came out to tell us that Nicole was pregnant," said Mike Jones, 23, whom Bell had known since elementary school. "He had a solemn look on his face. He said he was going to take care of them. But, he was happy, too."
When Bell left Nassau Community College, where he played baseball in the hope of getting picked up by a scout, he seemed to give up, at least temporarily, on some of the dreams he had as a child in South Jamaica, Queens. He talked less to his friends from that era, and began spending more time in other crowds. Baseball was pushed to a back burner.
"After that we all started moving apart," a friend since he was five years old, Lazaro Hernandez, 23, said. "But on holidays or when somebody needed something, we'd be together like nothing had changed."
For most of his life, Bell lived on the corner of 123rd Avenue and 141st Street in South Jamaica in a green, two-story, wood-paneled house with red trim. Across the street is the Saint Clement Pope R.C. Church.
It's a neighborhood like most of Jamaica — a stretch of land that was filled with farms until the 1920s, when two-story houses like Bell's were built en masse to create a middle-class settlement away from the steepening prices of crowded Manhattan. But, by the 1980s and 1990s, the neighborhood was known more for its poverty than its respite from city life. The area is predominantly African-American, and is the home of such rap artists as 50 Cent. Its residents call it "Southside of Jamaica."
As of 2005, the neighborhood had 181 children enter the juvenile justice program, the most for any neighborhood in the city, according to data from the Department of Juvenile Justice.
Bell has a younger sister, Delores or "D.J.," 14, and an older brother, William Bell, Jr., 28. His father worked for 20 years as a bus mechanic, before working in security. Most recently he has been driving the church school bus, family members said.
From an early age, Bell cared almost exclusively about sports, friends said. Among the pack of six or so kids who spent time together on the block, he was known as the athlete. The group would spend summers playing football, basketball, and baseball in the streets from the moment they woke up. They were often playing on two or three different little league teams at a time.
It was his skill at baseball that brought him to John Adams High School in Ozone Park, while many of his friends went to schools closer to home.
His baseball coach there, Glenn Beyer, said that he showed talent early on. In his first game against George Washington High School, Mr. Beyer "threw him to the sharks," but he struck out eight out of 12 hitters.
"He came off the field. I said to him: ‘Sean, I don't think you understand what you did. You just faced the best team in the city hitting wise, and you shut them down,'" Mr. Beyer said. "He just smiled."
In his senior year, Bell made First Team, All District 1, ranking as one of the best players in the North East.
It was a high point for Bell, a friend and former teammate, Jason Powell, 23, said. They got the chance to play a game in Yankee Stadium, "where Derek Jeter plays," Mr. Powell remembers Bell saying. The team was also invited to City Hall to meet Mayor Giuliani and have their photo taken. In an odd coincidence of time and city lore, it was just six months after the fatal police shooting of Amadou Diallo. That photo was posted at Aldo's Pizzeria on Cross Bay Boulevard, where Bell and his teammates went after games. Mr. Giuliani's spokeswoman said he doesn't specifically recall meeting Bell.
Bell also met Ms. Paultre at John Adams. She said on Larry King Live this week that they met when she was a sophomore and he was a junior. Friends said she liked his quiet demeanor and good looks.
Though he clearly had talent, Mr. Beyer said that he cautioned Bell, like all of his players, "You have to be beyond unbelievable to get a shot at the pros."
"He was a very good player, but as far as major league aspirations … after four years of not playing, you are not going to pick up a baseball and go to the major leagues."
In his last conversation with Mr. Hernandez, who works at the Sheraton Hotel but also aspires to play baseball professionally, the two talked about the different camps they were going to try out for in 2007.
After leaving Nassau Community College, Bell entered a rougher time in his life, according to court records. While he was living with Ms. Paultre, he was arrested in 2003 and 2004 on sealed charges for possession of a weapon and drugs. This year he was arrested twice on drug charges.
In April narcotics detectives picked him up after he traded a bag of cocaine for money in front of 123-65 147th Street in Jamaica. He was given five days of community service for illegal possession of a controlled substance, which he completed by the end of September.
Since he was killed, police have arrested three of Bell's friends, Christopher Keyes, 18, Timothy Smith, 19, and Stanley Smith, 23, at the same apartment complex for drug and illegal possession of a gun.
Trent Benefield, 23, who was riding with Bell when police fired on the car, also lived in the building, and Joseph Guzman, 31, who has spent more than a year on Riker's Island on charges of robbery and attempted sale of a controlled substance, was said to have spent time there.
On Tuesday night, another friend, Terry McKenzie, 21, was arrested with a bag of cocaine at a second apartment complex in Jamaica, police said. According to court documents, he threw away more than 50 other bags into a stairwell before he was caught. All the arrests were made "in conjunction to" the investigation of the police shooting of Bell, police said.
Most recently, on November 7, Bell was arrested for criminal possession of marijuana at the corner of 147th Street and Rockaway Boulevard, once again near the apartment complex.
None of Bell's family members interviewed for this article, nor any of his child hood friends, said they knew about his arrests.
"A lot of people have been in the wrong place at the wrong time," Bell's second cousin, Kinglarry Crawford, 35, said. "I know he didn't get in any trouble that warranted the family to know about it."
Around the same time of the November arrest, the invitations started going out for the marriage. Bell's mother, Valerie, began making phone calls, and Tony Modica of the La Bella Vita catering company finalized some of the arrangements for the wedding, where salmon, an assortment of pastas, and roast meats would be served to 160 friends and family. No alcohol would be served. Instead the guests would raise glasses of apple cider, Mr. Modica said.
When Mrs. Bell called her sister, Linda Walker, about the wedding, she said: "Sean decided to do the right thing." Similar expressions were by other members across the family.
"He was trying to better himself," Mr. Crawford said.
The bishop of the church where the marriage was to take place, Lester Williams, said he remembered Bell's sense of urgency when he came in for an initial conference about the marriage in mid-November.
"He wanted to do it right then and there," Mr. Williams said. "But I like to make sure, so I told him to wait."
At about 9 p.m. on the night before the wedding, Bell called his childhood friend, Mr. Jones, saying that a few people might go out to celebrate.
"He said he might go to Manhattan, to a bar," Mr. Jones said. "He didn't know what the plans were yet."
A small group that didn't include many of Bell's best friends ended up going to a notorious strip club on Liverpool Street, Kalua Cabaret. Among the group were Bell's father, William, and two friends from a later phase of his life, Guzman, and Mr. Benefield. Unbeknownst to them, NYPD detectives had chosen the same strip club for undercover enforcement that evening.
What exactly transpired that night is the center of an investigation by the Queens District Attorney, Richard Brown, but what is clear is that Bell, Guzman, and Mr. Benefield left the club as it closed at about 4 a.m. Police say an undercover detective had reason to believe that one of them had a gun, because Guzman had allegedly yelled, "Yo, go get my gun," during an argument with another group of men. The undercover detective armed himself and retrieved his badge from his car, and followed the men to their car on Liverpool Street. According to the detective's account, there were four men who entered the car, but a fourth man has not been officially identified.
The undercover detective's lawyers say he then pulled out his badge and yelled at the men to stop because they were under arrest. But Bell drove forward, clipping the detective's shin and ramming an unmarked police minivan with back up officers, police say. He then reversed into a garage, and drove into the van a second time, prompting the undercover detective to fire on the car. Four other officers also began firing. Fifty bullets were fired, killing Bell and injuring Guzman and Mr. Benefield.
Four bullets struck Bell, according to the medical examiner. One hit him in the larynx. Another struck the right side of his hip, puncturing his lung and liver. The other two his right shoulder and arm, shattering a bone. He was pronounced dead at Mary Immaculate Hospital.
No weapon was found in or near the car, nor were there any shell casings from any weapon aside from police-issued 9mm handguns.
Ms. Paultre's Nissan Altima, which Bell shared with her, was hit 21 times.
The wedding rings were found at the crime scene on Liverpool Street inside the bullet-riddled car, and with help from the Queens District Attorney, they were turned over before the funeral. Bell is buried with his, and Ms. Paultre is wearing hers.