ATHENS (Reuters) - To friends of Alexandros Grigoropolos he was a quiet, studious Greek teenager; to the police officer who fatally shot him, the 15-year-old was part of a crowd intent on mischief.
Beyond dispute Grigoropolos’s death on an Athens street on Saturday was the catalyst for the worst civil unrest in decades, for anti-government demonstrations that on Tuesday led to the gates of parliament.
The right-wing government, clutching a razor-thin majority, is wobbling with many Greeks calling for change and the opposition demanding an election.
Striking a chord with a nation angry with economic hardship, Grigoropoulos’s death has sent thousands into the streets, and thousands more to the web.
Known as “Gregory” to his friends, he came from an affluent family. His mother was a jeweler, his father a bank manager. He attended a private school in Athens’s northern suburbs.
Friends and acquaintances said Grigoropoulos was a reserved boy who spent a lot of time reading. His musical tastes ranged from punk to hip hop and he loved to skateboard.
A typical 21st century teenager.
“He was a very good child,” said Josef Gavlinsky, the janitor of the apartment block he lived in the Athens suburb of Palio Faliro. “He would always greet me and was always very polite... he was never any trouble,” Gavlinsky was quoted telling the Ethnos newspaper.
On Tuesday, thousands attended his funeral. As his inconsolable mother followed his white coffin to the grave, protesters clashed with police outside the cemetery.
Grigoropoulos was shot after an apparent altercation with police officers in the volatile Exarchia neighborhood. One of the city’s most violent areas, it was an unlikely haunt for a middle-class youth, but friends said he was there for a party.
“He was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” one of his classmates told the Ta Nea Daily. Another told the Eleftheros Typos daily, “He was an accidental hero.”
Police said a patrol car with two officers was attacked with projectiles by about 30 people. When the officers got out of their vehicle to make arrests they came under a renewed assault.
One officer fired a percussion bomb and the other used his gun, firing three warning shots, mortally wounding the teenager.
Witnesses have said the officer aimed at Grigoropoulos.
He has been charged with murder.
Precisely how events unfolded on Saturday night is not yet known, but one thing is clear -- the image of the youth with a mop of black curly hair has become an enduring symbol of public resistance for many in Greece.
There were more than 85,000 members of a page dedicated to Grigoropoulos’s memory on the online Facebook networking site.
“You are a reminder that your ruthless and cold-blooded killers will never muzzle free thought, free spirit and free will,” Spyros Rassidakis wrote on Grigoropoulos’s Facebook wall.
Friends commemorating Grigoropoulos’s memory were still laying flowers and lighting candles at makeshift shrine on the Exarchia street junction where he died. Among the scores of notes, one read: “I hope your blood will fight the brutality of this world.”
Editing by Matthew Jones