Teens in a mob assault and rob Center City patrons

Terrance Howard, 20, of Frankford, accused of having a Delaware woman's phone.
Terrance Howard, 20, of Frankford, accused of having a Delaware woman's phone.
Posted: June 29, 2011

The two young women were sitting at a window table inside the Max Brenner restaurant on 15th Street, near Walnut, sharing chocolate fondue after some shopping.

The streets were vibrant. The weather was nice.

"The city had a good vibe," remembered one of the women, Maria, who requested her full name not be printed.

But their night on the town was about to become frightening.

Heading their way was a pack of teens roving through Center City after leaving a North Philadelphia music festival.

They were part of about 100 or more young people who had left Saturday night's event, police said, committing a series of violent assaults and robberies, including one against Maria, 25, of North Philadelphia, and her cousin Cecilia, 29, of Havertown.

Donta Holdclaw was in the crowd of teens that night. On Tuesday afternoon, he stood on the front step of his mother's North Philadelphia apartment and said the group was bound for South Street.

"They were holding fireworks," he said. "That's what we were going to see."

He had gone to the Susquehanna Community Festival, along Susquehanna Avenue near Broad Street, with his older brother, Aleek Hamilton, 19. Last week, Hamilton graduated from Mastbaum Vocational/Technical High School, with plans to attend college and become a mechanic, said his mother, Letitia Washington. He also was working at a West Philadelphia thrift shop.

Hamilton is now in jail, charged with robbing Cecilia.

Erica Rockymore, 18, of North Philadelphia, was also among the teens, police said. Last week, she graduated from the Philadelphia Electrical and Technology Charter High School, her family said. Her 14-year-old sister asked her to take her to the festival. Rockymore is in jail, too, charged with assaulting Maria.

Maria and Cecilia were enjoying their dessert at Max Brenner, with its large, open bay doors. Afterward, Maria, an interior and industrial designer, had planned to visit a Northern Liberties art exhibit. Cecilia was heading home.

The women had spent the afternoon dress shopping. Maria is getting married soon.

About 10 p.m., Maria said, she saw a shirtless teenager run past the restaurant.

"He was running in the middle of the street and looked like he was running away from someone," she said.

Maria tucked away her phone and wallet, which had been sitting on the table.

She grew up in Brazil, she said, and was more street-smart than her cousin.

Before she could tell Cecilia to put her cell phone away, another teen reached through the window and snatched it.

Maria ran out after him.

She was on the sidewalk, starting to scream "thief," she said, when someone from behind punched her in the jaw.

She said she turned, jaw throbbing, to see the girl who had hit her standing with five other teens. "What are you going to do?" she said the girl who had punched her yelled.

The teens were laughing, she said. "They were fearless. It seemed like they weren't taking anything serious."

Maria ran into another restaurant and called 911.

The girls in the group called her a slut as they left, she said.

The police arrived quickly. Another customer at Max Brenner, a 32-year-old woman from Delaware who was with her 7-year-old daughter, had also been robbed. Someone had reached in through a window and snatched her phone, according to police reports.

"Would you be able to identify them if we find them?" an officer asked Maria, referring to the teens.

Yes, she said.

The three women and the young girl got in the back of a police cruiser.

At 11th and South Streets, they saw the pack. The teens didn't run. "They were laughing," Maria said, "like nothing was happening."

Maria identified Hamilton and Rockymore for police. One of the teens had already sent a text from Cecilia's phone, she said. "Hangin in the da hood," it read.

Terrance Howard, 20, of Frankford, was arrested after being found to have the Delaware woman's phone, police said.

Police are still investigating two other attacks by teens leaving the festival, including one that left a woman hospitalized with a broken leg.

Officials rejected characterizing Saturday's attacks as "flash mob" assaults, because, they said, they had not been coordinated through social media. Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey promised the department would pursue stiff penalties for similar teen violence.

"If they get caught and they get charged, they're going to have a problem," Ramsey said.

Paul Levy, president of the Center City District, called for a zero-tolerance approach.

Maria said Tuesday that her jaw was still sore. She and her fiance had planned to start a family in Philadelphia. She said she still might.

She was more surprised, she said, than frightened.

"I didn't expect something like that in Center City."


Contact staff writer Mike Newall at 215-854-2759 or mnewall@phillynews.com.

 

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