In Camden shootings, tragedy perplexes community

Blood from the victims stains a statue of the Virgin Mary at the house where the shootings occurred.
Blood from the victims stains a statue of the Virgin Mary at the house where the shootings occurred. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 25, 2013

By all accounts, Luis Medina is a gentle giant, a burly 21-year-old who lives with his parents. The autistic young man often retreats into "his own world," a neighbor said.

The Camden police officer who lives across the street is known in his department as a quiet man, too: a "good cop" and a 12-year, second-generation veteran of the force, Police Chief Scott Thomson said.

He and the Medina family had moved to the 2800 block of Arthur Avenue around the same time, almost two decades ago.

On Friday afternoon, the police officer, reportedly believing someone was breaking into his house, shot Medina and his caretaker as Medina banged on his front door and the caretaker tried to get him back to his own house.

Medina was shot through the arm. His caretaker remained in critical but stable condition Saturday afternoon, a spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office said. The caretaker's identity has not been released.

And on Saturday, the neighbors on Arthur Avenue and the police on the Camden force were still grappling with the same question: How could something like this happen?

"It's just a tragedy," said Medina's 59-year-old aunt, Zoraida Gonzalez, who lives a few blocks away. "We're frustrated. He's a very innocent person - like a 3-year-old in the body of a 21-year-old."

She said Medina was doing well but the family was rattled.

Medina - known as "Luisito" - was a familiar figure on the block, neighbors said, and he was known to sometimes try to enter neighbors' houses.

"Luisito is a good kid," said Mary Cortes, a community activist who lives several houses down from the police officer and babysat Medina as a child. "He would just sit in the middle of the room, watch TV, play with my figurines - and then go back to his world."

The unidentified officer has been placed on administrative duty while the Camden County Prosecutor's Office investigates the shooting.

Thomson, the police chief, said he knows the officer and used to work with his father.

"He is a good cop," Thomson said about the officer, who was born and raised in the city. "He and his history up until now speaks for itself."

On Saturday, a Virgin Mary statue and the sidewalk outside the police officer's house were stained with blood and patrol cars idled outside his house. No one answered the door.

The Camden County Prosecutor's Office must investigate all officer-involved shootings before the department can conduct its own administrative investigation, Thomson said.

He declined to comment on the criminal investigation and asked the public to withhold judgment until the investigations are complete.

"Before you formulate an opinion, you have to know all the facts," the police chief said. "It's not in fundamental fairness to the officer or the kid . . . to rush to judgment."

Cortes said Arthur Avenue is a quiet block where several police officers or former police officers live. And the residents are watchful - "we're always at the windows, checking things out."

"Everybody keeps to themselves in a way, but in any emergency we do come out to each other," Cortes said. "It's dead quiet at night. Everyone's respectful."


Contact Aubrey Whelan

at 610-313-8112, awhelan@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @aubreyjwhelan.

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