Murder charges brought in the shooting death of East Mt. Airy man

Philadelphia police have officially charged Brian Tootle, 19, of East Germantown with the July 27 murder of Nafis Armstead. Armstead, 23, and Gerald “Geezy” Jones, 26, were shot numerous times on the 200 block of E. Sharpnack Street in East Mt. Airy. Jones remains hospitalized.

Tootle, who was initially charged with an unlicensed weapons possession, was charged with murder on August 2. Philadelphia police recovered two weapons used in the crime and are still investigating a second suspect in the shooting. Tootle is scheduled for an arraignment hearing on August 22. 

Armstead’s mother, Sharon Armstead, expressed confidence that all parties involved in the murder of her son will be brought to justice. “It’s just a matter of time,” she said in a telephone interview from her home in Arizona. “He can run, but he can’t hide.”

Tootle was apprehended on the 200 block of Rosemary Lane in West Mt. Airy after a police search for two to three African-American male suspects in a green minivan with tinted windows led them to the location. A female who had also been taken into custody at Rosemary Lane on the night of the murder was questioned and released without charges.

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A motive for the shooting has not yet been determined, but Armstead’s family believe it to be a case of mistaken identity. Armstead’s wife, Diamond, stated that word on street is that the shooting may have been between warring drug dealers in retaliation over stolen merchandise and that Armstead was not the intended target.

Finding solace in faith and family

“Nafis moved [from Philadelphia] to Arizona to get away from this kind of stuff 12 years ago,” his mother said. She explained that Armstead left the state to attend secondary school away from the violence that was plaguing local schools at the time. After marrying in 2007, Armstead and his wife returned to Philadelphia.

Sharon Armstead said her son had recently told her that he was making choices in his life which he hoped would enable him to move back to Arizona. Now, her faith as a Jehovah’s Witness is helping the grieving mother to cope with the loss of her second child. Armstead’s sister, Keisha, died some years ago. “I have the hope I’ll see him again,” Sharon Armstead said.

For Diamond Armstead, great comfort was found in her husband’s traditional Muslim funeral at the Masjid Muhammad in Germantown and burial in Cinnaminson, New Jersey. “It was a beautiful ceremony,” she said of the Janazah prayer ritual. In a Muslim burial, the deceased is wrapped in a shroud called a kafn and lowered into a grave hand dug by loved ones with the head facing East towards Mecca. Diamond shared that being able to touch her late husband’s body one last time was emotional, but it was therapeutic to have a hand in the actual burial. “It’s a very humbling experience,” she said.

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