Philadelphia police say they’ve seized more ghost guns in 6 months than in all of last year

It’s a troubling trend on top of this year’s substantial increases thus far in both shooting victims and homicide victims.

Ghost guns. (Ximena Conde/WHYY)

Ghost guns. (Ximena Conde/WHYY)

Almost halfway into 2021, gun violence in Philadelphia is significantly worse this year than it was about the same point last year. During a Wednesday briefing, Deputy Philadelphia Police Commissioner Joel Dales said there has been a 25% increase in shooting victims and a 33% increase in homicide victims compared to June 6, 2020.

But those statistics are not the only troubling trend, Dales said.

“I would like to point out that in 2020, a total of 250 privately made firearms, which again are ghost guns, were recovered by the end of the year — not year to date, but end of the year. That’s the total number for the year of 2020, and as of June 7, we have passed that number,” Dales said.

The 2021 tally thus far: 260 ghost guns, he said.

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Ghost guns are often assembled from parts purchased online, and thus have no serial numbers as manufactured firearms do. Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said that what makes ghost guns tricky to deal with is that they are virtually untraceable.

Amid the gun violence, police and city officials said they are working to keep community hubs safer. Outlaw noted Wednesday that the latest effort, with help from the city’s Department of Parks & Recreation, involves increasing police presence around recreation centers, as well as partnering with the Managing Director’s Office to create educational opportunities.

“Our districts and officers are also creating unique summer programming for our youth. The PPD has met with community members and other agencies to prioritize and find alternate funding sources to secure ways to improve safety around rec centers,” Outlaw said.

She pointed to Christy Rec Center in West Philadelphia as one that made improvements to safety measures following the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Kahree Simmons in March. In addition, the rec center has been outfitted with video games at the requests of several young people.

Outlaw said the Police Department will be hosting a video game tournament this fall.

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“These are just a couple of glimpses into what we’re doing, but there are countless programs available through our districts. I encourage anyone who is interested in participating in summer programming to please reach out to your district and speak to your community relations officers,” Outlaw said.

New information on high-profile cases

Chief Police Inspector Frank Vanore provided an update on recent incidents of gun violence, such as Saturday’s shooting death of 41-year-old Christine Lugo as she was starting her shift as manager at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Fairhill.

“He fired one time, struck her in the head, and she was found dead at that location. The male fled on foot, and detectives, very quickly in processing that scene, recovered the video. Sometime that same day … images from that video were released to the public, and we appreciate the help we got in this case,” Vanore said.

A lot of that help came from police in Elsmere, Delaware. The information led to the arrest of 39-year-old Keith Gibson, who is currently being held in Delaware in connection with a separate incident.

“But what we believe now is that we believe Mr. Gibson is the perpetrator at the Lehigh Avenue murder of Ms. Lugo. I spoke to the district attorney within the hour. They are in the process of approving a warrant for us,” Vanore said.

Gibson is also now believed to be a suspect in the murder of his mother back in February.

Vanore also provided an update on the punching and subsequent death of 28-year-old Wei Lin following an auto accident with a woman on May 24.

Lin and the woman exchanged information, and she left the scene, according to Vanore.

Jose Figueroa, believed to be a relative of the woman, allegedly arrived there later and punched Lin in the face.

“That caused him to strike his head on the ground … police were called. He was taken to Temple Hospital. Approximately three days later, he succumbed to his injuries. The district attorney did charge Figueroa, and he’s in custody at this point,” Vanore said.

Figueroa was charged with involuntary manslaughter. Vanore said it was not known whether the case could be classified as a hate crime.

Mayor Jim Kenney, however, did offer a rebuke of anti-Asian violence in the city.

“This is the first known death in Philadelphia since the rise of AAPI hate nationally in recent months. Members of our community are filled with pain and grief. We were all devastated for Mr. Lin’s family, and we know it’s not the only violent act that’s occurred. We recognize the trauma and fear inflicted on our Asian American and Pacific Islander community during these uncertain times. So let me be perfectly clear. There is no place for hate or violence in our city against our AAPI brothers and sisters — or anyone else, for that matter,” Kenney said.

In a third case, Vanore announced that there is a warrant out for 26-year-old Kyron Conner for a double homicide May 31 in which 27-year-old Kyseem Roberts and 22-year-old Raheem Hightower were killed.

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