Another gunpoint purse snatching; cops urge caution

Posted: February 04, 2014

THE SIGN on the door of Tropical Heat reads: "Do Not Enter with Mask or Hoodie. If So You Are Now Trespassing."

So the guys in hoodies waited outside at closing time.

They pulled a gun on Melissa Thomas and demanded her purse when she left the West Philly bar after a night of karaoke, according to police. She only made it a few steps.

Cops say Thomas, 29, was fatally shot and her 34-year-old friend shot in the arm about 2:35 a.m. yesterday in the city's latest violent gunpoint robbery. Two men in hooded sweat jackets took their purses, then one opened fire on the women, according to police.

By yesterday afternoon, all Keitera Coble could do was pour a bottle of water on the sidewalk and scrub away the blood speckles near the entrance to Tropical Heat. She rinsed the brush in the melting snow at the corner of 53rd and Market streets.

"This here is real senseless. All over nothing," said Coble, who runs the Ideal Status Auto and Social Club, where Thomas was prospecting to become a member. "Somebody doesn't have a child no more, and we don't have our friend."

Thomas was a caregiver for her mother, Pamela Campbell, who lives on Pine Street near 53rd. Family and friends gathered there yesterday to mourn and await an update from police.

"She was my angel," Campbell said, tears rolling down her cheeks and dripping off her chin.

"There is no reason for this to happen," said Thomas' cousin, Anita Moses. "She was an extraordinary person. She gave love to everybody and didn't bother nobody. She had nieces, nephews, a sister, brothers, a mother, a dad that loved her."

Yesterday, police were releasing little about Thomas' murder, which follows two recent purse snatchings. Police didn't release the identity of the second woman shot outside Tropical Heat, but friends say she's a dancer who goes by the name "Strawberry." She was in stable condition at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

"Everyone was leaving after karaoke. It was a girls' night out. We were having a good time," said Jill Lewis, a friend of both women who left in a car just before the shooting. "I wish I would have just dragged her into the car and gotten her away from them."

Lewis said Thomas and "Strawberry" were talking with the two men outside the bar leading up to the robbery.

"It wasn't some random purse snatching," Lewis said. "It wasn't random. They were waiting for them."

Coble, known as "Phoenix" in her car club, said Thomas' club name was "Cheekz." Several car, motorcycle and social clubs plan to hold an antiviolence rally in honor of Thomas and "Strawberry" about 7 p.m. Tuesday on Market Street between 52nd and 54th.

"Within these clubs, everybody has somebody that has died," Coble said. "People are watching you. They know if you have money."

Cops responded to another purse robbery on Thursday in North Philadelphia, where a 24-year-old man and his girlfriend, 23, had just left his house on 26th Street near Lehigh Avenue at 11:53 p.m.

Police gave this account: As the couple walked toward the girlfriend's car, a man grabbed her purse. The boyfriend chased the offender down Lehigh. A second man arrived and shot the man in the chest.

The two men stole $300 from the purse and then threw it away. The purse was later retrieved by police. The victim was taken to Temple Hospital with a gunshot wound to the chest and was listed in critical condition.

About a half-hour after the shooting, police stopped three men walking on 25th Street between Harold and Huntington streets. All three were brought to the Northwest Detective Division for further processing.

Two of the men matched the police descriptions. Police arrested Rasheed Hall, 26, of Oakdale Street near 25th, and Clinton Brown, 20, of Sterner Street near 27th. Both are charged with robbery, theft, simple assault and related offenses.

On Jan. 19, Amber Long, 26, was fatally shot in the chest after refusing to let go of her purse.

Long had parked her car outside of her boyfriend's house on Front Street in Northern Liberties when two men approached her and her mother, Stephanie, about 10:30 p.m.

One of the men grabbed Stephanie's purse and the other went for Amber's. Amber was shot once in the chest with a small-caliber handgun. She was transported to Hahnemann University Hospital where she was pronounced dead 45 minutes later.

Police have not said whether any of the purse snatchings are connected.

Officer Tanya Little, a police spokeswoman, urged people to be aware of their surroundings when walking in the city and to comply with robbers' demands.

The city is offering a $20,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for any homicide. Tipsters: call the Homicide Unit at 215-686-3334/3335 or dial 9-1-1. Or text a tip to 773847.


On Twitter: @wbender99

Blog: ph.ly/DailyDelco

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