‘The victims are children’: Shooters spray 96 bullets near West Philly rec center, injuring five and worrying hundreds

DA Larry Krasner speaking at Shepard Rec Center in West Philly on August 17, 2022. (Sammy Caiola / WHYY)

DA Larry Krasner speaking at Shepard Rec Center in West Philly on August 17, 2022. (Sammy Caiola / WHYY)

Working on a solution to gun violence and want to share it? Get in touch with gun violence prevention reporters Sammy Caiola and Sam Searles.

Nearly 100 casings were found near the Shepard Recreation Center in West Philadelphia after a mass shooting Tuesday night, instilling fear and uncertainty for a community that’s long treated the space as a safe haven. Philadelphia officials are vowing to track down the perpetrators and adding patrol officers to watch over places where children play.

Around 7 p.m. Tuesday, multiple gunmen fired out of an SUV at 57th Street and Haverford Avenue and injured five people, all between the ages of 16 and 25. Children were playing just a short distance away.

Denise Tucker says she worries about her 14-year-old grandson, who often plays football at the center.

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“It wasn’t this dangerous before,” she said. “These guns have gotten out of hand, and it’s scary. And the victims are children.”

District Attorney Larry Krasner, Mayor Jim Kenney, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, and several local and state lawmakers held a press conference Wednesday to provide updates on their investigation. They said they’ve arrested three suspects and are looking for three more.

Kenney announced a $10,000 reward for anyone who can provide information leading to arrests on shootings near recreation centers. He said it will be modeled after the $20,000 reward sometimes offered to people who help with homicide investigations. Those with information can submit a tip online or call 215-686-TIPS (8477).

“It is beyond outrageous to me and all of us here that our young people were subject to this heinous act of violence while trying to enjoy themselves in one of our rec centers,” he said. “Those responsible for this violence must and will be held accountable for their dangerous acts”

Investigators believe three of the victims were targeted as part of a conflict between organized groups, and two victims were struck unintentionally.

Outlaw touted the performance of police officers who were in the area Tuesday night and responded to the violence at Shepard. She said the officers pursued a vehicle containing three of the suspects now under arrest. There were four guns recovered at the scene and five recovered from the vehicle, which Outlaw said is a clear example of the need to put more police officers on the street in high-risk areas.

“Our shooters are emboldened, and for some of them the presence of a police officer isn’t going to stop them from carrying out violent actions,” she said. “What we do know is that when our officers are in the area, the chances of stopping the mayhem drastically increase, as do the chances of making a quick arrest.”

Shepard Rec Center in West Philly. (Sammy Caiola / WHYY)

At one point Krasner invited members of community-based organizations who were in the crowd up to the podium.

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“It’s a failure of mine and it’s a failure of government in general,” he said. “What we don’t have up here are some of the incredibly important people in the community who are doing work on the ground every day … they are being erased in this process.”

But when a community member requested to speak, Krasner would not pass the microphone.

The group of men called up to stand by Krasner included Kayzar Abdul-Khabir, chief operating officer of Community Solutions CDC. Abdul-Khabir said organizers were not informed of the press conference in advance, they just stopped by because they happened to be in the area.

“They didn’t call,” he said. “We’re here. We know what’s going on. And no one’s listening.”

He said if given the podium, he would have told local leaders to give more funding directly to nonprofit organizations, with less red tape, so they can identify and reach potential perpetrators.

Children playing on the playground at Shepard Rec Center in West Philly. (Sammy Caiola / WHYY)

As for Tucker, the neighbor worried about her grandson, she was pleased to hear officials announce that police presence would be enhanced around recreation centers and schools. She also said residents need to address gun violence by teaching their own children to stay out of trouble, and by getting involved in community decision-making. She is a member of the Police District Advisory Commission for her area.

“Show the people in power, the white shirts and the blue shirts, that you are committed to your community and you want your community to be safe,” she said.

Tucker, like Mayor Kenney and other elected officials, encouraged neighbors to keep coming out to facilities and holding public events in an effort to deter further violence.

If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence in Philadelphia, you can find grief support and resources here.

Sam Searles contributed reporting.

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