Keisha Williams and her children are at peace, but those left behind are not

     Mourners arrive at the Seventh-Day Adventist Church at 15th and Oxford streets in North Philadelphia on Monday morning for funeral services for the three children killed in a hit-and-run tragedy on July 25. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Mourners arrive at the Seventh-Day Adventist Church at 15th and Oxford streets in North Philadelphia on Monday morning for funeral services for the three children killed in a hit-and-run tragedy on July 25. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Two weeks ago today, a carjacked vehicle spun out of control and struck Keisha Williams, three of her children and a family friend. They were selling fruit on a North Philly corner to help their church turn a vacant lot into a playground.

    On Monday, funeral services were held for 10-year-old Thomas Reed, who died at the scene, along with his sibings, 15-year-old Keiearra Williams and 7-year-old Terrence Moore, who both died later at area hospitals.  

    On Thursday night, the tragedy continued when Keisha Williams, at just 34, joined her children in death.

    Cause of death

    Doctors will say Williams succumbed to the injuries she sustained when a carjacked Toyota SUV jumped the curb and hurtled into the family. I can’t help wondering if the grief of losing three of her five children sapped her will to live.

    As a parent, it breaks my heart to know that a mother was helpless to stop the speeding vehicle that took her childrens’ lives. I take comfort only in the fact that Keisha Williams and her children are now at peace.

    As for the rest of us, there can be no peace.

    Not until we’ve done everything possible to keep such tragedies from ever repeating in our streets. We must do so by recognizing that some crimes are so heinous, so reprehensible, so utterly unfathomable, that communities must stop them before they begin.

    Preemptive strikes needed

    The two men accused in this crime are in custody.

    Cornelius Crawford, 22, and Jonathan Rosa, 19, allegedly carjacked, robbed and sexually assaulted a female realtor at gunpoint in North Philadelphia on July 25 before losing control of the vehicle and killing Williams and her three children.

    They have been arrested in connection with the children’s deaths and District Attorney Seth Williams announced Friday that they would be charged in connection with the fourth fatality as well.

    But charges aren’t always enough.

    For a man like Crawford, who had only recently returned from prison after a robbery conviction, jail time is no deterrent, because jail time is all such a man can look forward to.

    As one of the estimated 300,000 Philadelphians with criminal records, Crawford was likely going nowhere fast, especially with a felony conviction on his record.

    According to published reports, he befriended Rosa, who’d mostly kept his nose clean, and tragedy ensued. Now, both mens’ lives are ruined and four people, including three children, are dead.

    What good can come from this?

    That is a heart-wrenching end to an awful story, but the death and destruction we’ve seen in this case might just save the lives of others. 

    In order to make that happen, we must first face some truths.

    The most important among them is this: Stopping a heinous crime begins long before a man pulls a gun. Stopping such crimes begin with lessons on the meaning of manhood. 

    What if husbands and fathers across the city decided to show young men how to rise?

    What if we decided to provide lessons on the meaning of manhood?

    What if we showed the fatherless young men in our communities that it’s admirable to work every day, to come home to families, to love wives and children and to live with integrity?

    What if we decided it’s up to us?

    Someone is going to mentor our young men.

    Someone is going to give them a definition of manhood.

    Someone is going to teach them how to conduct themselves at home and in our streets.

    It might as well be us.

    If not, men like Crawford will fill the vacuum, and women and children will die in the wake of wanton violence.

    We can’t allow that to happen.

    The memory of Keisha Williams and her children is worth much more than that. 

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