Police hunt for carjackers in deaths of three children

Those who died: At left, Keiearra Williams at her fruit stand. Above, Terrence Williams (left) and Thomas Joseph Reed selling bottles of cold water along Germantown Avenue.
Those who died: At left, Keiearra Williams at her fruit stand. Above, Terrence Williams (left) and Thomas Joseph Reed selling bottles of cold water along Germantown Avenue.
Posted: July 28, 2014

As shade fell Saturday evening on the grassy lot where three siblings were killed by the driver of a carjacked vehicle the day before, a group of 50 people gathered for one purpose - prayer.

They prayed for the children, whom many in the crowd had never met; for their mother, clinging to life in a hospital bed; and for themselves.

For a half-hour, they cupped their hands around flickering candles, nodded as ministers preached about unfathomable tragedy, and joined in hymns as a guitarist lightly strummed.

"Don't try to understand. You can't understand," Helen Smith, a grief counselor, whispered to a woman bent over, her wet face buried in her hands.

Around them, at the corner of Allegheny and Germantown Avenues, crime-scene tape had been replaced with a makeshift memorial that grew by the hour: teddy bears, votive candles, a sign reading "RIP ANGELS."

The police cars and ambulances were gone. So were the K-9 teams, the homicide detectives, the crying witnesses.

Some residents of Hilton Street, where the family lives, were home Friday morning when they heard the news: There had been some sort of accident on Allegheny.

Some had walked around the corner to see what happened and had seen the bodies scattered across the lot.

Some knew them as their neighbors - Keisha Williams, 34, the quiet, stay-at-home mother from across the street, and three of her five children: Keiearra Williams, 15; Thomas Joseph Reed, 10; and Terrence Williams, 7.

Friday was bad, the neighbors say. But Saturday was, somehow, worse.

"It's harder today than it was yesterday," said Jacquita Kelsey, a close friend of the family. "I can see [Keisha] on the steps of her house, and Terrence in the doorway, saying 'Hi, Miss Jackie.' "

Williams was in critical condition at Temple University Hospital on Saturday as police continued the search for the men who carjacked a Toyota SUV on Friday morning, drove it at high speeds through North Philadelphia, and plowed into Williams and her family, who were selling fruit at the corner of Allegheny and Germantown to raise money for their church.

Williams' children were killed. Another neighbor, Thelma Brown, suffered a broken ankle. A 45-year-old woman, owner of the carjacked vehicle, was in critical condition but was talking to detectives Friday night.

Police said Saturday afternoon they were following up on a number of tips but had not yet found a concrete lead.

The city has offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the men's arrest; the Fraternal Order of Police has promised an additional $10,000 if the men are arrested by noon Monday.

On Hilton Street, with Williams' house empty and her family at the hospital, her neighbors waited for news - about an arrest, about Williams' condition, about what to do next.

The young mother had lived on the block for three years, they said, but had just begun to open up to the tight-knit community. She and Brown, they said, shared a particular bond and often stayed up chatting on their porches.

Her children, Kelsey said, were always close.

"I'd say, 'Look at her and her little ducklings,' " she said. "She was always with the kids."

Terrence and Thomas Joseph, Kelsey said, loved to watch wrestling and, when their mother allowed them to play on the street, looked after younger children on the block. Thomas Joseph turned 10 last month, she said, and he received a longed-for handheld video game console as a birthday gift.

Keiearra, 15, was a shy girl who had just started high school, Kelsey said.

"She was the quietest one - but a sweetheart," Kelsey said.

In recent months, the family had become active in a community garden run by Mount Zion Church at the corner of Hilton Street and Germantown Avenue.

"They took pride in their garden," said Joyce Fisher, another neighbor. The first tomato of the season, she said, laughing, was a major event.

The family had been selling fruit on the corner for some time, Fisher said. Neighbors said the church had hoped to raise money to build a playground on the lot.

"Today, to see the garden there, and the gate not open - not to see them there - it's hard," Fisher said.


AWhelan@phillynews.com

215-495-5855

@aubreyjwhelan

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