Tragedy struck last weekend when gunfire opened during a crowded birthday party at Minaret Temple No. 174 near 4th and Ward sts., leaving several wounded, two teenagers dead and a community in mourning.
“Families are hurting and shook up; it’s still fresh,” said Chester Police Chaplain Rev. Dr. William “Rocky” Brown, who also serves as a spokesperson for the social hall. “The big question is how they’re (the kids and families affected) going to be next week and the week after that,” he said.
Robel Laboy, 17, and David Johnson, 19, sustained fatal gunshot wounds at what was supposed to be a celebration, according to published reports, and eight other teens were hospitalized at Crozer-Chester Medical Center.
According to Chester Police Chief Darren Alston, a 17-year-old male suspect was arrested and charged with weapons offenses. Two other people, including 19-year-old Carlisha Coleman, of Claymont, Del., who threw the party, are in custody for resisting arrest, risking a catastrophe and other charges. According to her Facebook page, Coleman, a 2010 Chester High School graduate, charged “$5 for the ladies for the first hour” of admission.
In the hours following the melee, a candlelight vigil was held for the Chester Upland School District (CUSD) students to memorialize the young victims and hundreds attended.
However, “Grief doesn’t stop in a day,” said CUSD Acting Superintendent Dr. Joyce Wells, who said the district has assembled a counseling team for students who need help coping. Wells said the team consists of psychologists, social workers, behavioral liaisons and a climate manager for the district.
“We’ve set up a room for students and staff to come in to receive grief counseling,” she said. “It’s a very difficult time; people are still working through the situation and trying to get a grasp of everything.” Wells said counseling will be available all this week and possibly longer if evaluations deem it necessary.
“Our students will have a normal day,” she said of maintaining educational discipline in the coming days. “We’re educators and we try to teach our kids to be strong and resilient. I believe they are.” CUSD Climate Manager Suni Blackwell said that while some students are shaken, for the most part, they are reacting well in the situation.
According to Brown, who described the party as “chaotic,” witnesses to the incident have been reaching out for emotional support. “Some kids are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder; we’re getting calls from children who are saying they can’t sleep,” he said. “(When gunfire erupted), there were kids that were walked and trampled on,” he said, adding, “This is going to be a long process for these kids.”
Coleman’s Facebook webpage, on which the party was advertised, in the days leading up to the gathering suggested the event was going to be “SHUTTN (sic) C-CITY DOWN” and that there was “no age limit or I.d. Required (sic).”
Questions about the social hall’s policies after the shooting are being closely reviewed now, according to Brown. Also being investigated is whether or not party organizers provided proper adult supervision and how patrons were screened before being allowed in.
“We do not support or condone violence and negative behavior,” Brown said on behalf of Minaret, “and we will continue to cooperate with the investigation.”
Crozer-Chester Medical Center spokesman Grant Gegwich said that only two wounded teenagers remain at the hospital and are in stable condition.
“It’s just a sad, sad event,” Brown said. “These were innocent victims in the wrong place at the wrong time; these kids were not thugs.”
According to Alston, the teenage shootout is far from expected to set the tone for the upcoming warmer months. He does not anticipate a repeat of last summer when the city declared a 35-day State of Emergency following about two dozen gun-related crimes. “It’s just a very tragic incident,” he said, adding, “But it is an isolated incident.”