White and purple balloons rose steadily into an overcast sky above Maryland City Elementary School Sunday as a group of more than 200 people gathered to remember Ryan and Ivania Lee who were killed in their home last week.
Anne Arundel County police continue to investigate the murder-suicide that shook the quiet Maryland City neighborhood on May 10. The Lees, both 31, were killed by Shawn Maurice Price, who entered their Maryland City home searching for his estranged girlfriend while wielding a gun, police said. Price killed himself after the attack, and police have not identified the girlfriend.
Their 10-year-old son, known as Junior because he shares his father’s name, was shot four times and remains in stable but critical condition at a local hospital. A relative has said he will likely remain there for a month to undergo surgery and recovery.
Friends, colleagues, family members and community members huddled against unseasonably cool weather, holding candles and blinking away tears as they told stories of their lost loved ones: from the first time the pair met in a crowded nightclub, and their tireless pursuit of making a safe home for their children, to numerous moments of generosity and acts of kindness that endeared them to their community.
“I don’t what to do without her; I’m lost,” said Kim Bernal, Ivania Lee’s younger sister. “I find myself dialing my sister’s phone, and I have to hang up because she’s not about to answer.”
The couple’s other child, a 3-year-old daughter named Demi, was unhurt in the shooting and is in the care of her grandparents, according to a GoFundMe page set up for the family. As of Sunday, the page created by Ivania Lee’s brother for Junior’s medical bills, funeral costs for the parents and other expenses had surpassed $91,000.
“I lost my sister, but my heart breaks for my niece and nephew because I can’t imagine my life without my parents,” Bernal said.
Many who spoke promised to take care of the children and to make sure they knew their parents were good people.
Paola Castro, a family friend who helped organize the vigil, read a poem called “The Dash” about the short horizontal line between a birth date and a date of death that holds all of a person’s life experiences.
“Their dash was cut short in the worst way ever, but they left a lasting impression on us,” Castro said. “We need to carry on for them. We need to love Junior and Demi like they would have wanted to.”
Ryan Lee was a gifted athlete who took immense joy in coaching his son’s football team. He created L.E.E. (leadership, empowerment, education) Academy last year to coach young athletics and teach them leadership skills. Earlier in the day Sunday, a fundraising event Ryan Lee had been planning for his nonprofit before his death was held by friends in his honor.
Former teammates and fellow coaches gushed about Lee’s competitiveness and leadership on the field.
Mike Washington, a friend of Ryan Lee’s flew to the area from Boston to attend the vigil and a fundraiser that Ryan Lee had been planning before he died. Washington had known Lee for seven or eight years and helped him print t-shirts for his nonprofit. He had seen his friend only a couple of days before his death. Lee was the type of person to always show up when someone needed him and Washington wanted to return the favor to his friend.
”I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Washington said.
Tonya Thomas, one of Lee’s partners in the nonprofit, said Ivania Lee, a successful real estate client coordinator, also managed the finances for her husband’s nonprofit. An avid fan of crime podcasts, she started her own podcast with a friend called “But Sis” and talked about life as a woman, mother and wife. She had dreams of taking her children to El Salvador to visit family.
Friends and family describe Ryan and Ivania Lee as thriving professionally and ready to settle down as a young family.
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman and county Police Chief Amal Awad attended the vigil as well.
“People were really hit pretty hard by this one because this family, especially when they read about it in the newspaper, the story got told of what a great family this is what they’ve been doing, and the good work they’ve been doing,” Pittman said. “Just know that this family is going to be embraced by the people here.”
A group of administrators and educators from William Tyler Page Elementary School, where Lee’s son attends fourth grade, brought a sign that read “We (heart) The Lee Family.”
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The Lees were“the perfect parents” who were “always kind, always nice,” said Stacey Brown, the school’s principal. She praised their son for being an exemplary student who always had flashy sneakers.
“JR was never in my office, never ever ever ever,” said Brown, drawing a laugh from the crowd.
“He was the kid when he got out of the car in the morning, I would always say let me see those kicks, let me see those shoes,” she said.
Calwood Somers, Ryan Lee’s uncle, called Lee a great father and Ivania Lee “an incredible woman.”
He urged those gathered to follow in his nephew’s footsteps of showing generosity and kindness.
“One thing we can all do about this is be better,” he said. “Be responsible, do the right thing because that’s what Ryan would’ve done. And that’s what he’s going to want us to do and bring to other people’s lives.”