West Philadelphians are heartbroken after a beloved member of the community was killed by a stray bullet Friday afternoon in the Mill Creek section of the city.
Tiffany Fletcher, 41, was a Parks and Recreation employee who worked at the Mill Creek pool this summer. Police say she was outside the Mill Creek Recreation Center when she was caught in the crossfire of a gun battle between teenagers around 1:30 p.m. Police rushed her to Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead later that evening.
On Saturday, community groups held a ceremony to honor and mourn the mother of three sons, and to speak out against the gun violence that has plagued the city this summer.
It was a scene of contradictions: Candles and flowers sat atop rec center poles. ‘Stop gun violence’ signs laid across the grounds. Young children played on the playground, while teenagers shot hoops on basketball courts.
“This is very, very significant. It’s not normal to have people come to work, get killed, and their children find out their parents are dead at night time,” said Cass Green, co-founder of the local nonprofit Mill Creek Community Partnership. “This moment is about not accepting that being normal. It’s abnormal. And we fight against that.”
Fletcher’s friends and family, community members — and at least 30 bikers who were part of a “Pedal 4 Peace” ride around West Philadelphia — were there on Saturday. Philadelphia City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, who represents the city’s Third District, also visited, alongside Parks and Recreation officials and members of the Philadelphia Police Department.
Badia Wright was in the park with her four-year-old daughter. Wright also has a 13-year-old son, who uses the park often.
“It happened at a time when the kids were in school, thank goodness,” Wright said. “Because if not, this park is filled with kids. It’s not even 12 noon and there’s kids in this park. So it could have been worse. It could have been.”
Wright said she is nervous for her son, and nervous to get hit by a stray bullet herself. But she also wants to keep living her life normally, and for her son to have a normal childhood.
“You don’t have a choice because you can’t stay in your house,” Wright said. You have to come out and it’s still the summer season. So people want to come out.”
This isn’t the first time this summer that gun violence struck near a Philly rec center. On Aug. 16, shooters sprayed 96 bullets outside the Shepard Recreation Center in West Philadelphia, injuring five people. On Friday, a 12-year-old girl was wounded in North Philadelphia by a stray bullet in an unrelated gun battle. As of Sept. 9, not counting Friday’s killings, there have been 376 homicides in Philadelphia in 2022, a 3 percent increase from this same time last year.
Sammy Davis, a cousin of Fletcher’s who attended Saturday’s ceremony, said his family member was a “beautiful woman” who changed the community. After being in and out of the prison system from the time he was a young boy until he was 25, Davis now dedicates his time to helping young people avoid gun violence.
“If you got a problem with somebody, just fight with your hands, and you’ll live to see another day,” said Davis, who is known as “Coach Hot Hands” at the James Shuler Memorial Boxing Gym. “All I can say is, if you got to fight, if you got to defend yourself, with a gun is the wrong way.”
Derrick Long, a pastor for the Men of Mill Creek community group, helped raise Fletcher. He said she was like a family member to him, and a pillar in the community.
“Beautiful young woman, raised her family, took care of her kids, worked for the community. She could have got jobs elsewhere. She wanted to give back,” Long said. “And she gave her life for that. She gave her life for that.” Long hopes community leaders and Philadelphia officials can take more proactive approaches to end gun violence. He wondered why no adults had stepped in beforehand and asked the teens involved in the shootings why they were out of school in the middle of the day.
“We’ve got to start caring. Somebody’s got to be here. We can’t keep showing up after the fact,” said Long. “We got to get involved before the fight. We have to take that initiative … More needs to be done. And it starts with us.”
Long said the area needs more programs and other “positive alternatives” for youth.
Keith Bell, a Parks and Rec employee, runs a basketball program for 9 to 16-year-olds in Mill Creek, a few blocks away from the rec center.
“It’s just senseless,” Bell said. Bell had known Fletcher since she was born. The rec center area, he said, “is supposed to be a safe haven.”
Bell was asked to close his basketball program for the day, out of respect for Fletcher’s family, he said. Usually, it runs three days a week.
“Now we’ve got kids out here running around with nothing to do and could get caught in another crossfire, when I can have them indoors in a safe place,” Bell said. “Sometimes they don’t let us play our part.”
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and Parks and Rec Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell released statements on Friday.
“I was beyond appalled to learn of this heinous and senseless crime that has completely devastated so many people, especially her family,” Kenney said.
Lovell said the use of guns in and around the city’s parks is “unconscionable.”
“Our colleague came to work each day dedicated to serving her neighbors and making her family proud,” Lovell said in the statement.
The Philadelphia Police Department has a 14-year-old boy in custody for the shooting.
If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence in Philadelphia, you can find grief support and resources here.