Police search for killer of Widener student The junior was shot in the chest as he was walking to a bar on Providence Avenue, police said.

Posted: May 05, 2003

Chester police are looking for the person who shot and killed a Widener University student near the campus late Saturday night.

John Paul Lacey, 21, of Upper Darby, a junior communications major at the university's Chester campus, was shot in the chest about 11:35 p.m. as he walked from his apartment toward a bar in the 1600 block of Providence Avenue, about a block off campus, according to police.

Karen Toth, a Widener University spokeswoman, said that Lacey had been going from his apartment, which was about a block from where he was shot, to buy beer at Walio's Frog Pond Cafe.

According to Richard Lacey of Springfield, Delaware County, his nephew had just finished a shift at a Providence Avenue pizza shop, above which he lived, and "somebody may have thought he had the night's receipts in his pocket." Instead, his uncle said, he had only $6.

After he was shot, Lacey managed to get inside the bar, where he collapsed. He was taken to the Crozer-Chester Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead just after midnight.

"It's very sad - we're in shock," Toth said yesterday.

Widener is in its finals week, which ends tomorrow, Toth said. Students were notified about the shooting yesterday, told where to call for counseling, and reminded about the availability of campus shuttles and security escorts, she added. Toth said Widener officials think Lacey might have been shot during a robbery attempt.

Richard Lacey said yesterday that his nephew "was the kind of guy who - if you wanted someone to cut the grass, or shovel the walk, or help you move - he would do it and wouldn't take any money for it. He never said no."

No funeral plans have been made, Richard Lacey said. "We're in absolute disbelief - we're still in a nightmare we hope we would wake up from."

Lacey, who graduated from Upper Darby High School in 2000, was a full-time student who, in addition to working part-time at the pizza shop, also sold mobile phones at the Granite Run Mall, his uncle said. John Lacey, who wanted to work in sports marketing or broadcasting after college, lived with his twin brother Richard, also a Widener student, and with a third student.

"They had just one more exam to take and so they were celebrating" the end of the semester, his uncle said. "John went to get a six-pack and a few minutes later [Richard] got a phone call telling him to call 911."

Widener's campus safety report lists no on-campus homicides in 1999, 2000 or 2001. A Widener student, Abdul Sesay, was shot to death in April 2002 near the campus; his roommate was charged in his murder. The Widener campus safety report lists three robberies or attempted robberies on or near the Chester campus in 1999, four in 2000 and one in 2001. No information on 2002 or 2003 was immediately available.

Still, "we consider our campus to be very safe," Toth said. "We have 24-hour patrols by our campus security, and we contract with Chester police for extra security on weekends."

Outside Walio's yesterday, the only sign that anything had happened was a small, white cross leaning against the door, wrapped in a blue ribbon, with a sprig of flowers.

Chester police ask anyone with information about Lacey's death to call Detective Joseph Hampel at 610-447-7908.

Contact staff writer Dan Hardy at 610-701-7638 or dhardy@phillynews.com.

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