Prayers, song and a word against guns for Amber Long

Holly Phares (right) leads the Healing Presence Singers during a rally against gun violence in South Philadelphia. It was prompted by the Jan. 19 killing of architect Amber Long.
Holly Phares (right) leads the Healing Presence Singers during a rally against gun violence in South Philadelphia. It was prompted by the Jan. 19 killing of architect Amber Long. (AMELIA BRUST / Staff)
Posted: March 18, 2014

Under gray skies, the Healing Presence Singers performed Sunday at the corner of Ritner and Colorado Streets in South Philadelphia.

Their voices were raised in song to remind a city about a killing it won't soon forget, and to protest gun violence.

They gathered, about two dozen in all, outside what had been the plant-filled apartment of Amber Long.

The 26-year-old architect was shot and killed Jan. 19 across town on the 900 block of North Front Street in Northern Liberties during a purse snatching. The horror was witnessed by her mother, Stephanie, who lives in Harrisburg and who had spent the weekend in Philadelphia with her daughter.

Police believe the attackers watched the women from a parking lot at Brown and Front Streets before approaching them just steps from their car. No arrests have been made, though police released surveillance footage of the attack to aid in the search.

"Amber Long should not be dead for a purse," said Movita Johnson Harrell, a local advocate against gun violence. Harrell's youngest child was shot in a case of mistaken identity, resulting in her family's relocation. "I didn't want my other children to become statistics on the streets of Philadelphia."

"This neighborhood is healing as well as the family," said the Rev. Katie Day, who chairs Heeding God's Call, the faith-based group that organized the vigil. Day relayed a message from Stephanie Long, who had been invited to participate in the event but who was in Harrisburg.

"She is very moved that we are here," Day said.

There were readings and prayers, as well as a collection to help pay for an exhibition of Amber's artwork at Philadelphia University, her alma mater, on March 29 at Ravenhill Chapel. Day said Stephanie Long was worried about how she would pay for the exhibition and was grateful for the collection.

The Healing Presence Singers typically perform for social-justice and hospice organizations but decided to assemble in memory of Long to show solidarity.

"In this case, it's one individual, but there's a family attached. There's a community attached," said Holly Phares, the group's founder and artistic director.

Speakers called for accountability on the part of city officials and gun retailers to restrict sales. As the bells of St. Monica Roman Catholic Church rang, the group chanted: "Now is the time."

Gene Foschini, who was a neighbor of Amber's, spoke a few words.

"She was so happy that she'd gotten to that point in her life," he said of Amber's budding career. "It's just a horrible loss for us. I'm going to miss her."


abrust@phillynews.com

301-503-5429       @ameliabrust

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