Girl, 3, killed by falling security gate

Philadelphia police crime scene officers investigate the scene of the Saturday death of a three-year-old child, crushed when a security door fell into a crowd at the Rita's Water Ice at 2829 West Girard Ave.
Philadelphia police crime scene officers investigate the scene of the Saturday death of a three-year-old child, crushed when a security door fell into a crowd at the Rita's Water Ice at 2829 West Girard Ave. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 30, 2014

A festive fund-raiser at a Rita's Water Ice turned tragic Saturday afternoon when a security gate detached from the storefront and crushed a 3-year-old girl attending the event with her mother.

Police Sunday morning identified the victim as Wynter Larkin of Yeadon.

"It seemed like it was moving in slow motion," said an onlooker who heard the noise and thought at first that, miraculously, no one had been hurt, even though the heavy gate came down amid dozens who had gathered at the shop in the 2800 block of Girard Avenue.

But then, the screaming began and just as quickly, the man, who asked that his name not be used, and about 25 others were lifting the gate off the girl, holding it up for more than 20 minutes.

"You could see the imprint on her face," the man said. "I was lifting the gate and I'm looking down at the girl. Clearly she was unconscious. Her eyes were open and there was blood."

The girl was taken to Hahnemann University Hospital, where she was pronounced dead about 5 p.m., police said.

Police said the incident, which was being investigated by the police Central Detective Division, occurred about a half-hour earlier.

The Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspection ordered the business closed until the security gate could be repaired. The Rita's Water Ice franchise is on the first floor of the three-story building, with apartments above it.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to the child's family," said Linda Duke, a spokeswoman for Rita's Italian Ice, the shop's parent company.

The onlooker is a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, which was holding a fund-raiser for scholarships and its other charitable causes in tandem with the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

The girl's mother, a member of the sorority, was there to help with the fund-raiser. "She was screaming," he said.

The two groups, which are the first Greek-lettered groups to be founded on the campuses of historically black colleges, were involved in a friendly rivalry over which one could sell the most water ice and raise the most money for their charities.

Franchise owner Kenneth Jackson is a member of Omega Psi Phi, which decorated its side of the stand with balloons in the fraternity's trademark colors of purple and gold.

Fellow franchise owner Rebecca Cooper Jackson belongs to Alpha Kappa Alpha, which hung balloons in its colors, pink and green, on the other side.

The gate that fell was metal and attached over the opening of the store. The metal part that crushed the girl was the portion that stored the rolled-up security gate when the business was open. Police said the metal frame and security gate that came crashing down weighed 2,000 pounds.

Jackson did not respond to phone calls or text messages.

Alison Brady, who lives across the street and saw the gate fall, said that some stucco work had been performed on the property recently. She described Jackson as a good neighbor and a good businessman on a block that has been improving, with recent additions of an espresso bar and upscale sandwich shop.

"It was almost like slow motion," she said. "The gate was falling and people were screaming and it hit the ground and the little girl was there."


jvonbergen@phillynews.com

215-854-2769 @JaneVonBergen

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