Teen feud grows into wild S. Phila fighting; four shot

Posted: September 29, 2011

It began as a summer feud between high school girls. Something over a boy, police believe. It gained steam over Facebook. On Tuesday, there was an after-school fistfight.

A few hours later, on a narrow South Philadelphia side street, the spat between teenage girls had spiraled into a mob of adults and children beating one another with sticks and golf clubs - then gunfire rang out and four people were shot, including a 2-year-old girl left with a bullet in her belly.

Police are still trying to identify two men who pulled out handguns during the chaos on the 1200 block of South Bucknell Street. At least one of the men opened fire, police said, wounding Andrea Pointer, 59, and her grandchildren Sayir Saunders, 10, and Asiyah Owens, 2. Police have not identified the fourth shooting victim.

Pointer and Saunders, both shot in their legs, were treated and released, police said. Owens, shot in a hip, hand, and stomach, was listed in critical condition at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, police said.

Despite the crowd of 50 or 60 people, no one has yet stepped forward to name the gunmen, said Capt. Laurence Nodiff, commander of South Detectives.

By Wednesday afternoon, police and School District officials were beginning to piece together the chain of events that led to the quadruple shooting.

South Philadelphia High School Principal Otis Hackney said that, contrary to initial news reports, the fight Tuesday that led to the shootings did not occur inside the school.

The melee involving about 20 girls, according to witnesses, occurred shortly after dismissal, at Chadwick and Morris Streets, about six blocks from school, police said. The brawl broke out in front of St. Thomas Aquinas Church and School, where there is usually a crossing guard. But the school was closed Tuesday.

Some of the girls were Southern students; others were not, Hackney said.

By Wednesday, school authorities were interviewing "four or five" girls who they believed participated in the brawl, Hackney said. Some of the students were accompanied to school by their parents.

"We're still doing the investigation," Hackney said.

Pointer's 14-year-old granddaughter was in the fight, police said. She had also been in the middle of the feud, which had been simmering since summer, police said.

Around 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, about four carloads of family and friends of another girl who was in the fight pulled up at the end of Bucknell Street, police and witnesses said.

The crowd banged on Pointer's door.

"There was all these people on the steps," said a teen boy who answered the door Wednesday who did not want to give his name. "They pushed the door open."

The crowd tried to pull the 14-year-old from the house, said Yvonne Manley, 51, who said she had been outside, sweeping her sidewalk.

"They opened the door and bum-rushed the girl and started kicking butt," she said, adding that a girl in the crowd tried to grab her broom.

Pointer's grandfather and other relatives rushed into the street, police and witnesses said.

It was not clear whether the crowd had brought the sticks and golf clubs with them, Nodiff said, or whether Pointer's family and neighbors had armed themselves.

Before being shot in the leg, Saunders, the 10-year-old, swung what looked like a cane at the people attacking his older cousin, Manley said.

"The little boy had heart," she said.

The narrow block had erupted.

"Mayhem," neighbor Patricia Young said.

At one point, someone screamed, "They got guns," Nodiff said, and gunshots rang out.

"People were screaming and hollering and running down the block," Young said.

Police arrived quickly, scooping up the injured toddler and taking her to the hospital, witnesses said.

It was not yet clear who fired on whom or whether both men with guns actually fired, Nodiff said. Investigators recovered bullet casings across the street from Pointer's home, suggesting that one gunman had fired toward the house, Nodiff said.

The other man who pulled a gun was standing closer to the house, Nodiff said.

It was unclear which faction of fighters the men were connected to, police said.

Police are looking for two black men, one described as 25 to 30, standing 6 feet tall, and weighing 220 pounds, wearing a white T-shirt and black fitted baseball cap, and armed with an automatic weapon. The other man, wearing a black T-shirt and jeans, was in his early 20s with a muscular build, and was armed with a revolver.

Authorities were reviewing footage from neighborhood surveillance cameras, and police were calling for community assistance.

"It's hard to believe that here we are almost 24 hours later with a 2-year-old in the hospital and we haven't had an outraged cry from someone telling us who shot these four people," Nodiff said.

Police said they were concerned about retaliatory violence.

On Wednesday, school and police officials addressed Southern students during an assembly.

"Although it didn't happen on school property, we took the appropriate measures to address the students on their conduct to and from school," said Chief Inspector Myron Patterson of the Police Department Office of School Safety.

"The climate at Southern High was excellent today," he said. "It's unfortunate that this happened. We are addressing this to assure that no future problems occur."

Parents were being told of the shootings, he said, and police will enhance their patrol area around the school, he said.

Under Hackney, who is in his second year as principal, Southern is trying to recover from the 2009 assaults in which 30 Asian students were attacked by groups of mostly African American classmates, sending seven students to hospitals. It still operates under a federal civil-rights agrement that was spurred by a U.S. Justice Department finding that the district was "deliberately indifferent" to violence and harassment against Asian students.

Hackney said there had been no indication the girls had been fighting.

"Nothing happened in the school that would even put a little blip on the radar," he said, adding that the school is still working toward better communication between students and teachers.

Acting School Superintendent Leroy Nunery II also addressed students and staff.

Everett Gillison deputy mayor for public safety, said that in coming weeks school officials and authorities would seek to enhance mediation skills for children and families.

At dismissal Wednesday, some students said they knew of the fighting between the girls.

"I know it was about Facebook," senior Ashley Taylor said. It was a "little kiddie fight," she said, "just comments about boyfriends and all that."

On Bucknell Street on Wednesday, neighbors spoke of years not so long past when teenage fistfights ended with fists instead of bullets.

Neighbor John Allen said simply, "There's just too many people carrying guns and not caring if they kill each other."

Anyone with information about the shootings is asked to call South Detectives at 215-686-3013.

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

Inquirer staff writers Quan Nguyen and Allison Steele contributed to this article.

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