With another purse-snatching death, women urged to take precautions

Posted: February 04, 2014

PHILADELPHIA A woman was fatally shot and a companion wounded during a purse-snatching in West Philadelphia early Sunday morning, the latest in a string of violent handbag grabs in recent weeks that have left two dead.

Police and self-defense experts on Sunday cautioned women to use extreme caution.

"We want people to be aware of their surrounding and be cautious out there," Philadelphia police spokeswoman Tanya Little said. "If that purse is what a would-be robber wants, then by all means let them have it."

The Sunday shootings occurred around 2:35 a.m. at 53d and Market Streets, police said. The women reportedly had just left the Tropical Heat Bar.

They were approached by two men wearing masks and black hooded sweat jackets and robbed at gunpoint, police said. After taking the victims' belongings, one of the men fired at them several times, police said.

Police found Melissa Thomas, 29, shot twice in the chest lying on the street. Thomas, of the 5300 block of Pine Street, was pronounced dead at the scene.

A 34-year-old woman whose identity was not released was shot in an arm. She was reported in stable condition at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Police did not disclose how much, if any, money the women had on them when they were attacked.

Noah Spear, a self-defense expert at Platoon Fitness in Washington Square, suggests carrying a small purse and keeping it close to the body. If confronted, the best course of action is to toss it, preferably on the ground, and flee the assailant, he said. "You're looking for a way out, not a knockout," said Spear, a black belt who teaches a three-week defense course, ROAR - Realistic Options Against Rage. "These are dangerous people who are willing to do anything for a pocketbook."

Even better - if possible - leave the purse at home to lessen the appearance of being an easy target, said Mark Moore, owner of Underground Martial Arts & Fitness Center in Sewell.

"You have to ask yourself, 'What's more important - the things in my purse or my life?' " Moore said. "It's not worth the risk of getting shot."

Moore, who also teaches self-defense workshops for adults and children, advises having a "pregame plan" to detract a would-be assailant. It includes walking in well-lighted areas, traveling with a group, and avoiding texting or talking on a cellphone.

On Thursday, a 23-year-old woman was robbed of her purse when she and her 24-year-old boyfriend left his home on the 2600 block of West Lehigh Avenue in North Philadelphia, police said.

The boyfriend was critically wounded when he chased after the robber, who fled after taking $300 from the purse, police said.

On Friday, police charged Clinton Brown, 20, of the 2700 block of West Sterner Street, in connection with the purse theft. Rasheed Hall, 26, of the 2500 block of West Oakdale Street, was charged with shooting the woman's boyfriend.

Last month, Amber Long, 26, was shot and killed during a robbery in Northern Liberties. Long was walking with her mother, Stephanie, when they were confronted by two men. One man grabbed Stephanie Long's purse, and the other, struggling for Amber's, pulled out a handgun and fired a single shot.

Authorities have not provided any information on whether the attacks might be related. The city offers a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in any homicide.

Anyone with information about Long's or Thomas' deaths can contact the Homicide Unit at 215-686-3334.


mburney@phillynews.com

856-779-3814 @mlburney

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