Death of 10-year-old hits at school's heart Charges against two suspects were upgraded to murder.

Posted: February 18, 2004

The flag at T.M. Peirce Elementary School flew at half-staff yesterday morning, reflecting the mood at the North Philadelphia school a day after 10-year-old Faheem Thomas-Childs died of a gunshot wound he suffered as he walked to school last week.

"It was sad before. It's sadder now," principal Shively Willingham 2d said of the atmosphere at the school, where many had hoped and prayed that the third grader would somehow recover.

"Faheem was smiling and happy and couldn't wait to get to school because the children find and feel that this is a safe haven for them. To have something like this happen really takes a bite out of everybody's heart," Willingham added.

Vincent Thompson, a school district spokesman, said grief counselors and psychologists were at the school and would continue there as needed. He said police would remain stationed outside the school.

Faheem was shot in the face last Wednesday morning as he was caught in a fierce gunfight between two groups of men outside the school at 23d and Cambria Streets. Debra Smith, a crossing guard who was shot in the foot, was treated at a hospital and released the same day.

Kareem Johnson, 20, of the 2900 block of Taney Street, and Kennell Spady, 19, of the 3000 block of Bonsall Street, were arrested over the weekend in connection with the shooting. Both were held without bail.

Edward McCann, chief of the district attorney's homicide unit, yesterday upgraded charges in the case to murder, according to office spokeswoman Cathie Abookire. Johnson and Spady are likely to be rearraigned today, she said.

Police said that up to six people firing six weapons were involved in the shoot-out. Investigators believe that many of the 94 spent shell casings recovered along the blocks-long crime scene were from a shoot-out the night before. Some of the casings were from the same gun in both battles, ballistics tests show.

In the 2900 block of North 23d Street, where the bullet that hit Faheem was probably fired, 50 casings were recovered: twenty-five 9mm casings, eight .45-caliber casings, sixteen .30-caliber casings, and one .38-caliber casing.

Along Indiana Avenue from 23d Street to 25th Street, where the earlier gun battle is believed to have occurred, investigators recovered 44 shell casings: thirteen .357 Magnum casings, twelve .30-caliber casings, eleven .45-caliber casings, seven .38-caliber casings, and one 9mm casing.

Detectives have interviewed a witness who has provided some corroborating evidence in the investigation, police said.

At a news conference yesterday at Temple University Children's Medical Center, two of Faheem's aunts, Clarissa Savage and Joann Bullock, and other relatives thanked the community for its prayers and support. They also pleaded for witnesses to come forward.

"We want the community to give them up," Savage said of the men in the gunfight.

J. Whyatt Mondesire, head of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, said a memorial fund was established to help pay for funeral costs and to help support Faheem's eight siblings. Funeral arrangements have not been made, he said.

Faheem's family agreed yesterday to donate his organs for transplant, according to Howard Nathan, president of Gift of Life Donor Program, which coordinates organ donations in the Philadelphia region.

Faheem was pronounced dead, based on brain-death criteria, Monday afternoon at Temple Children's, but artificial support, including a respirator and medicines, continued to keep his organs functioning.

Nathan said the hospital called in his organization yesterday to talk with Faheem's family about the possibility of donating his organs for transplant.

"The family, in truly an act of love, has made the decision that their son should be considered as an organ donor, and we are hopeful that others will get a second chance for life through this selfless act of giving," Nathan said.

Faheem's family, however - despite the selfless gesture - was having difficulty dealing with the youngster's death. The family later asked that the school flag that principal Willingham had ordered flown at half-staff be raised.

At the school yesterday, Angela Martin placed a teddy bear at the school's front gate, adding to a growing memorial of stuffed animals, roses and other items.

"I just wanted to leave a little something for what happened here," said Martin, 53, who lives about a block from the school. "I hope they catch all the people involved. I had no idea that something of this magnitude could happen."

As students were dismissed for the day, Brandy Cross, 11, and Regine Benn, 10, placed a poster they had made of green construction paper at the school's side gate.

"I am sorry about Faheem Childs," it read. "I know that he is in Heaven resting."

Contact staff writer Vernon Clark at 215-854-5717 or

Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Tom Ferrick Jr., Susan Fitzgerald, Thomas J. Gibbons Jr. and Jacqueline Soteropoulos.

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