A gun death where love is the motto heightens safety concerns in Philadelphia

LOVE Park was the scene of a fatal shooting Tuesday night. A security guard for the Christmas Village has been charged

LOVE Park was the scene of a fatal shooting Tuesday night. A security guard for the Christmas Village has been charged. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

One man is in custody facing murder charges after a shooting in Philadelphia’s iconic Love Park, another example of the violence that has become pervasive in the city.

Chief of Detectives Frank Vanore said Wednesday that Tuesday night’s shooting was the result of a confrontation between Gregory Thomas, a man hired as a security guard at the Christmas Village construction site in Love Park, and Ryan Groff, who died after two shots were fired.

“At some point, he [Thomas] went to his car, he retrieved a firearm, he’s not permitted to carry a firearm, he fired at least two rounds, and at that point the decedent was struck and killed at that location.”

A Philadelphia police officer walks past the scene of a shooting in LOVE Park. A 29-year-old man was killed. A security guard for Christmas Village has been charged
A Philadelphia police officer walks past the scene of a shooting in LOVE Park. A 29-year-old man was killed. A security guard for Christmas Village has been charged. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
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At the city’s biweekly gun violence press conference Wednesday, Mayor Jim Kenney said that it’s “easier to get a gun than a driver’s license in Philadelphia.” If he had his way, Kenney said, only “military and law enforcement” would be able to carry firearms. The mayor said even criminals have easy access to firearms, and that is turning confrontations that once used fists and left people bruised into lethal confrontations that result in people dead on the  streets.

The city has seen a 12% increase in homicides so far this year — 471 so far, versus 422 in 2020. The number of guns used in crimes has also escalated — 5,158 this year compared to 4,452 a year ago. The number of homemade firearms, so-called “ghost guns,” has almost doubled, 493 this year versus 250 a year ago.

At the press conference, officials also brought up domestic violence and the increase in related deaths.

“Last year, in all of 2020, there were a total of 18 domestic homicides in Philadelphia. So far this year, we’ve experienced 35 domestic-related homicides in our city. Tragically, we’ve almost doubled last year’s numbers,” Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said. “While it’s true that these incidents have started to trend down in recent months, one is too many, and all of us here today must remain committed to stemming the tide of violence.”

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Outlaw spoke of one factor in the increase in domestic violence: the pandemic.

“The data over the last year has shown us that there was a strong relationship between the COVID shutdowns and increases in violence,” she said. “This is a problem that’s being experienced in many major cities throughout the country, not just our own. Although this problem isn’t unique to Philadelphia, it doesn’t mean that it should be accepted or even normalized. When the shutdowns occurred, many of the safe havens that were available to people were taken away. Schools were shut down, places of worship could not open their doors, and workplaces were closed.”

Sending a message against violence

Amid the violence that has become pervasive in Philadelphia, one crusader continues to send a message in the best way he can, standing at murder sites and talking to people on the streets.

Jamal Johnson greeted the lunchtime crowd at Love Park Wednesday, using a bullhorn to alert them of Tuesday night’s fatal shooting. He spoke out about how people need to be involved.

Anti-gun activist Jamal Johnson holds a one-man rally at LOVE Park, where a 29–year-old man was shot to death Tuesday night. Chief of Detectives Frank Vanore said Wednesday that Tuesday night's shooting was the result of a confrontation between Gregory Thomas, a man hired as a security guard at the Christmas Village construction site in Love Park, and Ryan Groff, who died after two shots were fired.
Anti-gun activist Jamal Johnson holds a one-man rally at LOVE Park, where a 29–year-old man was shot to death Tuesday night. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“I think there’s great concern. I just don’t think there’s enough outrage,” said Johnson. “If I’m outraged about it, I’m going to make sure somebody knows that I have a problem with what’s going on. And I don’t think that we have enough of that being displayed in the city of Philadelphia.”

Johnson said he goes to every homicide scene, and has even gone on a hunger strike to call attention to the problem. He said Mayor Kenney has to become more involved and get other city officials involved too as the homicide rate rises.

A chalk circle marks the place where a bullet casing landed during a fatal shooting in LOVE Park Tuesday night
A chalk circle marks the place where a bullet casing landed during a fatal shooting in LOVE Park Tuesday night. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“Treat the trauma in the communities that have it, on-site trauma centers,” said Johnson. “More frequent briefings about the gun violence, like we do with the COVID crisis. The same escalation of priority of gun violence as they are doing with the COVID crisis right now.”

For now, Johnson is waiting for the next homicide, and said he believes, unfortunately, it won’t take long.

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