March 25, 2024 | By: Emily Regalado

This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and the University of North Florida’s Applied Journalism class.

Carmen Tuck’s grandson woke up on September 24, 2012 to his uncle hovering over him with an impressive stack of waffles. He told his uncle that he did not want any, but his uncle said to him, “Eat them waffles!” So, he did.

Over a decade has passed, and Carmen’s grandson has never again eaten another waffle.

His uncle was Zaair Tuck, 31 years old, who never returned to his mother’s home after he went out on a late-night visit to a friend’s house in downtown Elizabeth, New Jersey. He was shot by an unidentified man and found on the sidewalk of the friend’s house. His murder has never been solved.

Zaair was born and raised in Elizabeth with his mother, Carmen, and younger brother, Freddy. The family grew up in a three-bedroom apartment, in what Carmen says was the “hood of Elizabeth.”

Growing up, Zaair would spend his time playing basketball or watching his favorite player, Kobe Bryant, on television. If there was no basketball on, Zaair often played video games on his Xbox.

“He beat the Grand Theft Auto video game at least 20 times but he still loved to play it,” Carmen said.

For 13 years, Carmen was married to Freddy’s father. He was for the most part, the only father figure that her sons had in their lives.

Carmen said that when she left her ex, her sons began getting into trouble and fighting in school. “They laughed sometimes, and they fought sometimes,” Carmen said.

As a teenager, Zaair spent a period in and out of foster care. But when he was home with his family, he would do anything his mom asked of him.

“Zaair was a momma’s boy,” Carmen said. “Days before his death, he overloaded the washing machine after I told him multiple times not to. When I found out he overloaded it and broke the machine, she had an I-told-you-so moment.”

“To my surprise, Zaair lifted the entire machine up. All by himself, he hauled it down the stairs and threw it out for me,” Carmen said. He would do anything for his mom, especially when it was repenting for anything he did to upset her.

Zaair was familiar with repentance – he grew up going to church with his family when he was younger. Carmen said that as he got older, he drifted away from God when he and his brother fell into a pattern of trouble.

It was not until later in his life, around the time when he had his daughter, Avyanna, that he returned to the church. “Avyanna changed his life. He always wanted a child,” Carmen said.

A week later, Carmen found her son praying to God and crying. She believed he was reaching out to repent for mistakes he made in the past and for whatever he had done the week before.

On the night of September 24, 2012, Zaair received multiple calls and texts from his friend who was trying to get Zaair to go over to his house. Carmen said that the friend had texted and called him insistently, which led her to believe he should not have gone.

“Even the dog was barking at him not to go to that boy’s house,” Carmen said.

However, Zaair went to his friend’s house at around 9 p.m. and never returned home. Zaair’s friend and friend’s girlfriend reported that Zaair was shot in the neck.

Carmen received a call from a friend who told her the devastating news, but she said she never heard from the police that night. She said that the report from the police, which she later received, was that a car driven by an unidentified male pulled up at the friend’s house that night demanding marijuana from Zaair, who he thought was a dealer.

According to Zaair’s friend’s account, the unidentified male became anxious because Zaair said he did not possess any marijuana but that he could find someone who did. The man proceeded to shoot Zaair, according to police, and it is unclear whether it was a misfire or intentional.

Carmen said that the police told her Zaair died from the fatal gunshot wound to his neck, which caused him to choke on his own blood.

The few people Zaair kept close in his life miss him dearly. According to Carmen, Freddy does not go a day without thinking of his brother.

Zaair’s memory lives on through his daughter, Avyanna. She was only 4 years old when her father died. Avyanna, who is known as Nana by her loved ones, has her father’s towering height and fiery personality.

Zaair’s father, Isa Abdul’Waliyy, who was absent for much of Zaair’s life, said he has connected with Nana and been there for her in the way he should have been for Zaair.

“I watch Nana like a pit bull. Nana is his legacy,” Abdul’Waliyy said about his protective, father-figure relationship with his granddaughter.

Carmen says she struggled for a while after Zaair’s death to even look at Nana because of the striking similarity between them. However, Carmen said she quickly came to see Nana in a new light.  “Zaair is still here in her,” she said.

Anyone with information on the shooting or on what might have led to Zaair Tuck’s death is asked to contact the Union County Prosecutor’s Office at (908) 527-4500. To remain anonymous and possibly be eligible for a reward, call Union County Crime Stoppers at (908) 654-TIPS.

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Newspaper Clippings - September 5, 2012

Photo Album

Image provided by the family of Zaair Tuck

Image provided by the family of Zaair Tuck