West Philly neighbors furious at attack on beloved 87-year-old woman

An officer checks out the porch of a home on Catharine Street near 56th where an 87-year-old woman and her 62-year-old son were beaten and stabbed Tuesday during an apparent robbery attempt. Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer
An officer checks out the porch of a home on Catharine Street near 56th where an 87-year-old woman and her 62-year-old son were beaten and stabbed Tuesday during an apparent robbery attempt. Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer
Posted: August 01, 2012

TO NEIGHBORS, 87-year-old Democratic Committeewoman Yvonne Gaines is a pillar in her community, a surrogate mother and grandmother to everyone on the West Philadelphia block where she's lived for more than a half-century.

That's why residents and city officials say they're having trouble understanding how Gaines' former next-door neighbor could enter her home and allegedly attack the senior citizen and her 62-year-old son, stabbing each several times in an apparent attempted robbery.

"It's a shame because he had to have known her. Why would you do that? That's your mother," Nicole Johnson, 31, said as she sat on her neighbor's porch a few doors down from Gaines' well-maintained rowhouse, fronted by a tidy porch lined with flower pots with American flags stuck into the soil.

"If you need help, she'll help you," said another neighbor, Ruthe Rivers, 47. "For something like this to happen, it really shook me."

Police said the ordeal began shortly after 3 a.m. Tuesday when James Brinkley, Gaines' son, answered a knock at the door of their home on Catharine Street near 56th to find former neighbor Jimmy Morrison, 41, asking to use the bathroom.

After Brinkley let Morrison inside, Lt. John Walker of Southwest Detectives said, Morrison confronted Brinkley and the two began struggling. Morrison allegedly plunged a sharp object into Brinkley's body several times and beat him on his head before heading upstairs to find Gaines in her bedroom, Walker said. There, police said, the man rummaged through the senior citizen's jewelry and brutally attacked her, hitting her and stabbing her several times in the torso.

Both Gaines and Brinkley were taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and listed in critical but stable condition. Walker said that investigators are unsure if anything was taken, but that parts of the house appeared to have been ransacked.

State Sen. Anthony Williams and Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell announced a $5,000 reward for the capture of Morrison, who police said now faces charges of attempted murder and related offenses.

"She lives on a solid block and is beloved by everyone," said Blackwell, who visited Gaines in the hospital Tuesday afternoon. "They take care of one another, and that's all the more reason why this is so sad and shocking."

In the wake of the heartless attack, neighbors rallied behind the matriarch.

"He better not show up here or let no one see him," Rivers said as she sat on her front porch. "Or else he's gonna get a serious beat- down."

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

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