Staff Photo: John Bohn Paul R. Sampleton, Sr., wearing a white shirt, is comforted by mourners attending a memorial service for Sampleton's 14-year old son Paul R. Sampleton, Jr., a Grayson High School freshman shot during an apparent robbery at the home of his mother on December 19th. The memorial service was held on Thursday evening at Levett and Sons Funeral Home in Lawrenceville.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Just two days after Christmas, friends and family gathered to remember 14-year-old Paul Sampleton Jr.
The roughly 200 people that filled the chapel of Levett and Sons Funeral Home in Lawrenceville were doubled in the nearby atrium and spilled out into a frigid Thursday night during the memorial service for the Grayson High School freshman, who was shot and killed last week during a robbery at his mother's home.
Sampleton's parents -- Paul Sr. and Stephanie Stone -- wore shirts touting their athletic young son as "God's D-I running back," an ode to his aspirations to play college football at the highest level.
Appropriately, those who spoke at the memorial service focused heavily on the gridiron.
"Paul believed in being the best," Mike Macon, who coached Sampleton in youth football at Central DeKalb, said. "Paul just blessed us so much, that he always had that smile. Even when he entered the field and he'd say, 'What's up coach?' He always had that smile on his face. That smile is what I hold on to."
Daniel Mahoney coached the teen as recently as last year.
"Paul was a rambunctious young man just like any 14-year-old kid would be," he said, "but oh boy did he have a spirit. Did he have a spirit. He had a very mature spirit, a mature mind for a 14-year-old boy."
Sampleton was found shot to death inside his mother's Haynescrest Drive townhome on the afternoon of Dec. 19, the last day of school. Discovered by his father at about 2:40 p.m., Sampleton's body was restrained and lying on the kitchen floor.
Gwinnett County police detectives believe the teen was a victim of a robbery, but have not released specifics about the believed nature of that crime. Spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith said Thursday that no new details were available regarding the case.
"There is nothing new that we can share at this point, but the case is under active investigation," Smith said. "No arrests have been made."
On social media, friends and classmates of Sampleton have speculated that he may have been killed over sneakers -- the teen was a member of an online community called Addicted to All Things Fresh, where those interested often arrange meetings to swap sneakers, music and other items.
Police have said they are looking into that possibility.
A program for Thursday night's service included an open letter from Sampleton's parents to their deceased son.
"To realize your body is gone and your spirit remains, gives us comfort to know your death will not be in vain," it said, in part. "Paul, we will always love you and miss you; your name will always be remembered, your heart will always be remembered."
Dr. Kary Harris, senior pastor of Union Baptist Church in Buford, delivered a passionate message to the hundreds gathered to celebrate the life of the boy whose killer has not yet been brought to justice.
"We want to give God some praise for this life," he said. "It's not how long you live, but it's how you live. And it's that dash in the middle. He's done so much in his life and touched so many."
Funeral services are scheduled for Friday afternoon in Macon.