Little girl was shot: why will no one talk?

Investigators search for a stray bullet as ballistic evidence after a two year-old was shot in the stomach on the 4600 block of north 12th Street in the Logan section of Philadelphia around 9:30 p.m., Saturday, June 16, 2012. (For the Daily News / Joseph Kaczmarek)
Investigators search for a stray bullet as ballistic evidence after a two year-old was shot in the stomach on the 4600 block of north 12th Street in the Logan section of Philadelphia around 9:30 p.m., Saturday, June 16, 2012. (For the Daily News / Joseph Kaczmarek) (Joseph Kaczmarek)

Shooting that wounded toddler has neighbors talking - but not to cops.

Posted: July 13, 2012

BULLETS TORE through the warm summer night, slicing into the crowd of about 200 people jamming a Logan street for an impromptu block party.

A 2-year-old girl took a bullet to her tiny stomach as she stood between parked cars. Three other people were struck. Dozens of witnesses scattered.

Everyone clammed up.

For nearly a month, whispers about the violence have traveled porch to porch. But infuriated police and city officials say not a single person has come forward with a tip, not even the girl's mother.

Although "stop snitching" is nothing new, this latest outrage provides a particularly galling example of the culture of silence that grips some city neighborhoods and cripples efforts to bring criminals to justice.

If no one in that neighborhood will speak up to catch the monster who nearly killed a 2-year-old girl, what will it take for residents to stand up to the thugs who hold them hostage?

"It's a disgrace. This is shameful," city Managing Director Richard Negrin said. "We're not asking someone to stick their neck out. This is about giving us a name so we can get an investigation started, so that we can try to do good police work around a tip, and we don't have one."

$10,000 reward

Gunfire erupted from two weapons shortly after 9 p.m. June 16 on 12th Street near Courtland during what cops and city officials say was an illegal block party. The volley of shots sent partygoers ducking behind cars and running for cover.

As the crowd scattered, police said, the 2-year-old girl remained standing between two parked cars until a woman noticed her alone and scooped her up as a second round of gunfire rang out - making it at least 10 shots fired on the block in a matter of moments.

It wasn't until the toddler was put into the arms of her 23-year-old mother, who'd run onto the porch of a house in the middle of the block with several others, that the mother realized her little girl had been shot in the stomach, police said.

"I heard shots and thought maybe it was fireworks," said a witness who gave his name only as Anthony. "Then she was screaming that the baby was shot."

The first cops to arrive at the chaotic scene found a block so jammed with parked cars and people that an ambulance couldn't drive down the street to pick up the badly wounded child, residents and officials said.

In the house where cops found the young victim, bleeding from her stomach, they also found a 24-year-old man suffering a graze wound to his right leg.

Around the corner on Marvine Street, cops found a third victim, a 30-year-old man with a gunshot wound to the hand.

Albert Einstein Medical Center reported a fourth victim from the shootout - a 22-year-old man who'd been hit in the calf and taken to the hospital in a private car.

Will, a neighbor who said he was there at the time of the shooting but declined to give his last name, sat on his porch and reflected on the chaos that erupted with the gunfire. "There were people in the street, on the sidewalks, on porches," he said. "It's hard to identify. You can't even tell where it's coming from."

Immediately after the shooting, cops announced a $10,000 reward for tips, but they've gotten none. On Tuesday, Lt. George McClay of the Northwest Detective Division said investigators are awaiting cellphone records of people present for the shooting in hopes of gleaning a lead.

"We've gotten very little from the neighborhood," McClay said.

After 15 days in St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, the 2-year-old is home recovering, officials said. Attempts by the Daily News to reach the wounded toddler's mother were unsuccessful. Through neighbors, she declined to comment recently.

"We've been praying for her," her neighbor said. "The story needs to get out there."

Confusion and fear

The handful of neighbors who agreed to speak with a reporter - mostly on the condition of anonymity - said it's a sad state of affairs when a toddler can nearly be killed but no one is willing to give police information on what happened. Still, neighbors said that even though everyone's been talking about the shooting, no one seems outraged.

"I've been hearing people say what was going on, but they're not really pissed," said one resident who declined to give his name, reflecting the jarring numbness to violence seen in some of the city's most crime-ridden corridors.

"There's a total apathy ... in the community," said city Director of Public Safety Michael Resnick, "plus maybe, unfortunately, an acceptance that this is the way it is. And maybe reliance that the city will take care of it, the police will take care of it, ‘It's not our issue' ... but unfortunately, it is. They live there. It's their neighborhood."

Another neighbor who was outside during the shooting said: "It's sad. I wish I knew more. I'd tell y'all. It was a lot of concerned people out here."

But Negrin and Resnick said they're convinced people in the neighborhood have information about the shooting and aren't coming forward.

"That's inexcusable on the part of that community," Negrin said. "We're not stupid. Human nature is human nature. When something like this happens in a community, it's not an everyday occurrence. Everybody talks about it. Everybody there knows who the shooters were."

Resnick added, "I'm sure the word's out on the street."

Both stressed that tipsters can remain anonymous. They said the Police Department's text-a-tip line, PPD TIP (773847), was specifically set up so cops can't tell where a tip originated.

"We specifically outsourced that so it's a third-party outside vendor taking those tips," Negrin said. "It doesn't even come to the city, so you don't even have to trust us that we're going to treat you anonymously. The vendor is instructed not to give us the number or tell us where it's coming from."

The community's silence on that shooting doesn't mean police never get tips, city officials said.

Since the Police Department launched its text-a-tip line and the iWatch Philadelphia smartphone app in the spring, Resnick said, cops have gotten more than 2,000 anonymous tips via the department's website;http://phillypolice.com/forms/submit-a-tip/, phone calls, texts and the app.

"People give tips every day," Negrin said. "There's a mechanism in place. There are people who step up and do the right thing all the time."

Some sliver of hope

If witnesses remain mum on the details, the city now has some recourse to compel them to testify under oath. The state Supreme Court late last month approved the use of secret grand juries for indictments - a measure partly targeted at the very "stop-snitching" culture in Philadelphia that cops and officials believe is keeping neighbors silent in this shooting.

Negrin said the District Attorney's Office is considering assembling a grand jury in the case. A spokeswoman for the D.A. declined to comment, saying in an email, "We do not confirm nor deny grand jury investigations, therefore no one in our office will be able to speak to you about this."

If a grand jury were convened in this case, it would be the first in Philadelphia under the new ruling, officials said.

Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who represents the North Philadelphia block where the shooting happened, said her office is working on setting up a series of small community meetings over the next few weeks to talk with people, hoping to make them comfortable about sharing information.

She attributes residents' silence to the fear of retaliation. One of the victims shot on 12th Street, according to police sources, has 18 prior arrests, including two for witness intimidation. He was the only victim with a criminal record.

"Any time a 2-year-old can be shot in front of 200 people and no one says anything, it's a problem," Bass said. "It's beyond a problem. It's a travesty that speaks to the fear and the concern. We have to get in front of it.

"I'm the mother of a 3-year-old, and I just cannot say enough how outraged I am that this should happen," she added. "And the perpetrators are still on the street weeks later."

Contact Morgan Zalot at 215-854-5928 or zalotm@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @morganzalot. Read her blog PhillyConfidential.com.

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