Drive-by shooting wounds 5, 2 critically Two 15-year-old S. Phila. girls are on life support. They had been hanging out near home in an area known for drugs.

Posted: August 17, 2001

As his 15-year-old stepdaughter, wounded in a drive-by shooting, lay on life support, Pete Rodriguez paced outside his South Philadelphia home, yards away from the crime scene.

Rodriguez, 29, said he bought his rowhouse on Watkins Street just this summer. But because his stepchild, Veronica Rios, and four other teenagers were wounded early yesterday in what neighbors and officials acknowledge is a drug-infested neighborhood, he now plans to move his family as soon as possible.

"She just wanted to have a good time, hanging out with friends," he said. "Mistakes happen; innocent people pay."

It was 12:30 a.m., police said, when at least two gunmen, possibly wearing masks, rode past Fifth and Pierce Streets in a four-door black Buick and fired several shots at the teens hanging out on the corner. The gunmen then sped off.

The five wounded youths, all from South Philadelphia, were taken to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Yesterday, Rios and Susan Satchell, also 15, were listed in critical condition, on life support. Germain Richards, 15, and Cassius James, 15, were in stable condition. Joseph Mulhern, 18, had been treated and released.

At Philadelphia Police Headquarters, officials said they did not know whether any of the wounded were targets.

"We believe the shooters are not unfamiliar with the neighborhood and the neighborhood is not unfamiliar with the shooters," Commissioner John F. Timoney said.

He added that the wounded, "by all accounts, are innocent bystanders."

Lt. Richard Ross of the Homicide Division pleaded for the public's help in finding the shooters. Anyone with information is asked to call the Homicide Division at 215-686-3334.

"Lots of times in neighborhoods like this, it's going to be very, very difficult for us to do our jobs," Ross said. "That's why we're making this appeal for as much help as possible."

Neighbors say the 1700 block of South Fifth Street is riddled with drug activity and violence. It has become a daily struggle, they say.

"I'm petrified now," said Mary Reitano, 32, who runs a day-care center around the corner from where the shootings occurred.

She says she usually lets the children play inside only.

Neighbor Pete DiAngelo, 62, decried what he called a lack of police presence in the area.

"We're prisoners in our homes," he said. "It's a disgrace."

Rios was planning to enter her sophomore year at Furness High School, family members said. They described her as attractive, vivacious and outgoing, a combination that has made her popular among neighborhood teens.

Relatives said she had just stepped out of the house to talk with a friend. They insist that she is not involved in the neighborhood drug activities.

"She was in the wrong place at the wrong time," said her grandfather, Luis Irizarry, who also cited the perceived lack of a police presence in the area.

"When I moved in here," he said, "you could leave your front door open. Now you've got to lock everything."

When asked why his granddaughter would go to an acknowledged drug area after dark, he answered: "That's everyday living around here. Get used to it."

Elisa Ung's e-mail address is eung@phillynews.com.

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