An extended community of mourners gathered in Nicetown Park on Friday night to mourn the loss a young man killed in what relatives suggest, and hope, was an accident.
Darius Persons, 16, of the 1900 block of Rowan St., was shot once in his chest around 9 p.m. Thursday in the park located one block off of Germantown Avenue and bordered by Roosevelt Boulevard to the north.
Persons was seated on a red bench beneath a canopy of trees when he was shot at point blank range. An impromptu shrine of candles and candid photographs marked the location at Friday’s vigil.
Police found a single .22-caliber shell casing on the ground about three feet from the bench where the teen was shot; a clip and ammunition were retrieved nearby. Person would be pronounced dead at Temple University Hospital less than a half hour later.
Police estimated that six people were at the park when the shots rang out. Two witnesses were brought to speak with Homicide Unit investigators, one of whom may have also been seated on the bench at the time of the shooting.
No motive was offered by police at the crime scene, but they said that two suspects were seen running east through the playground toward St. Luke Street immediately afterwards.
A nearby surveillance camera may have recorded Person’s murder, the 255th this year in Philadelphia.
A painful vigil
Charisma Presley, a Nicetown resident who challenged state Rep. Rosita Youngblood in the 198th District primary earlier this year, distributed candles while mourners arrived.
“It’s hurting right now,” said Presley. “Darius wasn’t one of these guys on the corner.”
She observed that Persons served as a community activist, who would get people out to vote. In summers, when the nearby Kroc Center was closed, Persons, himself a father of preschool-aged boy, would lead neighborhood kids to an open city pool.
His grandmother, Brenda Staten, had just seen him that day.
“My daughter was taking him to school, to get him the education to try to help him,” she said. “I was so proud of him.”
A grandmother’s anguish
After hearing of her grandson’s death, she spent the entire night at the park trying to help locate the gun. While this act proved ultimately provide fruitless, she believed the shooting was an accident. Her theory: Someone was showing off a gun that unintentionally fired.
Staten said that the shooter’s identity was unknown, but believed that the perpetrators were in fact present on Friday.
“Those two boys who ran with that gun are here in this circle. I feel it,” she said. “They need to give themselves up, and say it was an accident.”
Staten reserved pointed words for those tempted by street life, calling her grandson’s death a “wake-up call.”
“Leave those demons alone,” she beseeched. “Let them stay there. Walk past them.”
Memories of the victim
Afterwards, mourners departed for Persons’ home, located about two blocks away, taking with them the candles and candids as they walked by 39th District police officers who watched over the vigil.
The memories, along with smiles and sobs, came forth.
Khadijah Scriven first met Persons in 2007 at an after-school program she operated in the Nicetown Community Development Corporation, located across the street from the park. It eventually expanded into a summer program, and Persons was one of her first participants.
“He was a stepper, he was athletic, he was very educated,” she said.
The program grew, but funding was scarce, so Scriven — who volunteered her time — eventually had to let the program run its course. When she told Persons the news, she felt that his true nature came forth.
“He comforted me like he was light years beyond his age,” she recalled. “He understood. He was accepting. He gave me comforting words like you’d expect from an adult. Things like that, when you get them from a child, you just don’t forget.”
Persons’ murder occurred one day after a storekeeper was shot numerous times less than a mile away on Germantown Ave. It is also the second murder of a teen in a park in Northwest Philadelphia within a week.
As reported by NewsWorks, police arrested a 19-year-old Olney man last week in connection to a fatal shooting that unfolded near a city recreation center on Sept. 7.
Saleem Snead was charged this week with the homicide of Paris Talbert, 17, of Elkins Park. Snead allegedly shot Talbert in the abdomen at Finley Playground in the city’s Stenton neighborhood.
Yet another fatal shooting occurred in city park only days prior when an 18-year-old man was shot in his back Monday at the Cecil B. Moore Recreation Center on 22nd St. He died afterwards at Temple University Hospital.
Then, on Sunday night, a 32-year-old man was shot on Sydenham Street in Nicetown. He was reportedly in stable condition at an area hospital hours later.