There’s a photograph capturing 8-year-old Martin Cobb of Richmond, Va., in his Sunday best – light gray suit, pink button-down shirt and matching tie, shiny black shoes. His hands are stuffed in his pants pockets. And he’s standing tall for a guy his size.

It’s how his community sees him: “a soldier,” “a hero” and a boy with “a heart of a lion.”

His mother told NBC 12 he was “the man of the house,” a role he reportedly took on Thursday evening. An aunt told CBS 6 Martin and his 12-year-old sister were playing on the railroad tracks near their home in South Richmond when a teenager approached them and attempted to rape the girl. Martin tried to intervene and was beaten, the aunt told reporters. He died at the scene. Police have said he suffered a severe head trauma.

His sister is still recovering from injuries in the hospital, according to news reports.

“I tell him, ‘You the man of the house,’” Martin’s mother told NBC 12. “And he tried to protect his sister and he got killed.”

Local media reports say the 16-year-old suspect has been charged with murder and strangulation. His name has not been released because of his age.

Martin, or “Marty” as he was known in his tight-knit community, was a student at Elizabeth Redd Elementary School. His mother said he liked to play with toy cars. He was often seen riding his bike around the neighborhood. And he collected keys.

Throughout the weekend, family, friends and neighbors paid tribute to Martin.

Diamonte Scott, 6, stands with his grandmother Irene Giles during a prayer vigil for Martin Cobb, the 8-year-old who was killed trying to defend his 12-year-old sister against a sexual assault. Cobb liked big-wheel trucks, so Scott brought his own with a candle burning in the bed. (Dean Hoffmeyer/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

Hundreds assembled outside his South Richmond church Saturday for a vigil. His loved ones gathered in his yard around a sign that read, “Martin: A real hero lived, fought and died here.” And on Sunday, Martin’s family wore black T-shirts with that picture of Martin in his gray suit. The shirts read, “RIP Marty.” His mother’s shirt read, “RIP Mommy’s Hero,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

Praising the boy for protecting his sister, a neighbor, Andrew Patillo, told the Times-Dispatch, “He stood so tall, to be so small.” And a cousin, Ebony Hollenquest told the newspaper, “I’m going to remember him as a solder. He died a soldier.”

petition directed to the White House asked that he be recognized for his heroism. It had nearly 1,200 signatures Monday. And an aunt of Martin’s said a donation fund has been established at Wells Fargo Bank called “Keys for Marty Foundation.”

Many have taken to Twitter expressing their sadness and support:

The Times-Dispatch reported that funeral arrangements for Martin are expected to be finalized Monday. And Jacqueline Smith, an extended family member who calls him “peanut,” told the newspaper she’s going to get Martin’s last Sunday best outfit.

“I’m going to get a really nice suit for him,” she said.

An individual familiar with the case told the Times-Dispatch that the suspect stayed at the crime scene as a witness after the incident as initial descriptions of a bearded white attacker circulated. After speaking with Martin’s sister, police later determined she had been intimidated by the suspect into providing a false report of the attacker, who is black.

“He was a lovely little boy. He didn’t deserve this,” Geraldine Pitchford, the children’s aunt, told NBC. “I’m still trying to make sense of this senseless crime. I couldn’t fathom the thought of this ever happening.”

The suspect is set to appear in Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court in Richmond, the Times-Dispatch reported.