When Alberta Hertzler moved into her home on the 700 block of Lloyd Street 56 years ago, the people were cordial and the block was peaceful.
“I used to come home from work at night and sit outside until 3 o’clock in the morning by myself,” Hertzler said Monday afternoon while perched on plastic patio furniture in front of her two-story rowhome alongside her daughter, Barbara Moore.
“It was nice and quiet.”
Things are different today.
“Now you expect to hear gunfire at least once or twice a week,” the 91-year-old Hertzler said.
“Last month I was up in bed, and I heard four shots that I thought were fired right in front of my steps. I got off the bed and crawled under it until things were quiet. The shots were coming from the alley.”
Like a journeyman fighter, Hertzler’s home is nicked, scarred and still standing. There is a bullet hole in the green awning that shades her patio and evidence of another shooting by the handle on her front door. A couple years ago, another bullet entered her house and shattered the mirror in her dining room.
Hertzler did not hear the barrage of bullets discharged just before midnight Thursday outside the nearby corner bar at Seventh and Lloyd streets.
“But I did,” Moore said. “I heard them and then I went back to sleep (figuring) someone probably got killed. … You get tired of the drama. You hear shots all the time, but you don’t want to come outside.”
The shooting in front of the Platinum Harambee Café killed 32-year-old Verlondon Jamal Gary, who was pronounced dead at the scene, and wounded two women, one critically. Authorities believe as many as 37 bullets were discharged during the melee, which Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan said may have been sparked by “turf wars” involving the Ruth L. Bennett Homes.
As he has done several times since becoming the county’s top law enforcement official, Whelan joined county detectives and others for door-to-door canvassing Monday afternoon in the area around the shooting.
“We are searching for leads and information that might generate the probable cause we need to make an arrest,” Whelan said while standing at the corner of Eighth and Pennell streets.
“I think the basic element is establishing a relationship with the residents. Let them know we’re here, we care about what’s happening in their neighborhood and that we need their cooperation.”
Joining Whelan Monday were Joe Ryan, chief of the Delaware County District Attorney’s Criminal Investigation Division, Deputy District Attorney George Dawson, detectives Ken Bellis, Ed Pisani and Lou Grandizio, public affairs officer Erica Parham and the Rev. William “Rocky” Brown III, a former councilman in Chester who serves as police chaplain.
“I think we can make a difference if we all work together,” Whelan said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take months, even years, in order to suppress some of the violence and change attitudes down here. … (There’s) an acceptance of violence that’s intolerable. We need to change that.”
With hopes of finding information on Thursday night’s shooting, Whelan’s crew was armed with flyers touting the District Attorney’s Anti-Violence Task Force and the ability to report tips anonymously through Delco Crime Stoppers on the D.A.’s website, delcoda.com.
“There were 37 shots fired within seconds,” Whelan said. “Fortunately it wasn’t worse than it was. Even with that horrible death, it could have killed multiple people within seconds using those type of assault rifles in this particular area.”
Located across the street from the Charles Horsey American Legion Post, the Platinum Harambee Café was closed Monday. On each of the bar’s two doors were yellow notices from the city that said, “This building is not to be occupied or rented without the approval of the Department of Public Safety.”
There were four bullet holes in one of the doors, which also featured a large sign that read, “No Drugs or Guns Permitted in This Establishment.”
“The bar used to have an older crowd, but now it’s young people and they get simple,” Moore said. “The girls are worse than the guys. They have nasty mouths and are outside fighting all the time.”
Without rec centers, swim clubs and jobs, she said kids have nothing better to do than fight and do drugs.
“If there’s a fight, you’ll see them come back later and ride along Seventh Street with their guns out,” said Moore, whose nephew was shot in a drive-by near Seventh and Lloyd.
“It’s horrible,” Whelan said, “and the residents shouldn’t have to be in fear every single night of a stray bullet.”
With her 92nd birthday just a couple weeks away, Hertzler would rather dodge the occasional bullet on Lloyd Street than give up her independence and move to a senior community.
“I don’t want to be there with the way they control you in those places,” she said.