The effervescent teenager had big dreams. Standing at 5-foot-10, 156 pounds, Mr. McCree, a junior, wanted to attend Fordham University and become a professional basketball player. If that didn’t pan out, he said he planned to join the Marines, Ms. Dennis said.
His stepfather, Kyle Victor Sr., 36, said he taught Mr. McCree how to play basketball. He was a fast learner, said Mr. Victor, who raised him since he was 6. The teenager played basketball with friends at Crotona Park and in the courtyard behind his building. His school did not have a basketball team.
Mr. McCree grew up in a two-bedroom apartment at Mapes Court, two six-story brick buildings a half a mile from the Bronx Zoo.
He lived with his mother; brother, Kevon Dennis, 17; and his sister, Kayla Dennis, 4. His stepbrother, Kyle Victor Jr., 10, was always eager to visit on weekends. The family had a cat named Elmo, and a Maltese named Baby.
Mr. McCree shared a small room with his older brother, which after his death bore little sign of him. Ms. Dennis said she and her older son disposed of most of his belongings because they reminded them that Matthew was gone. All that remained was an unfinished mural that reads: “Money Matt” and “You’ll Live Forever.”
“He had the most annoying laugh ever,” Mr. Dennis said with a slight smile in the courtyard. Mr. Dennis, who attended Wildlife for middle school and then left for a different high school, sat near a growing memorial of blue and white candles, enlarged photos of his brother, a basketball, and countless hand-scrawled messages, including one that read: “No student should be scared to walk the halls.”
Ms. Dennis said Wildlife had a better reputation when her eldest son attended. The principal was active, accessible and frequently accompanied students on school trips. The school also had a program in which staff walked students home, creating a bond, but the program ended.
Last year, on an annual survey, just 55 percent of the students at the school reported they felt safe there, and only 19 percent of teachers said they would recommend the school.
“Nobody had the kids under control,” Mr. Dennis said. “Everyday the cops were outside. It just got bad.”
The school administration and the education department declined to comment.
Mr. Cedeno told police that his peers had been bullying him about his perceived sexual orientation, though Mr. McCree and Mr. Laboy had never been in contact with him before that day. Police said Mr. Cedeno began carrying a knife to school.
A grand jury is hearing from witnesses about the stabbing on Sept. 27, according to the district attorney’s office and Sanford Rubenstein, Ms. Dennis’ attorney. Mr. Rubenstein said the family will not take legal action until after Mr. McCree’s funeral. A wake for Mr. McCree will be on Friday evening at the Castle Hill Funeral Parlor in the Bronx. His funeral is at 7 a.m. on Saturday. He will be buried in Canarsie Cemetery in Brooklyn.