When the neighbors on Simpson Street heard the barrage of gunfire on the street on Saturday night — more than a dozen shots in quick succession, some said — they waited until the shooting ended, and then peered cautiously outside.
Down the block, a little boy lay still on the ground, at the foot of his own porch steps.
It was 7-year-old Zamar Jones, his mother Jennifer Lee confirmed to The Inquirer Sunday, a playful, cheerful boy with friends in almost every home on the 200 block of North Simpson Street, a tight-knit residential street that borders Cobbs Creek Park.
He had been shot in the head.
Zamar and several other children had been playing outside together just before the gunfire erupted, about 7:40 p.m., neighbors said. Police said a man drove down Simpson Street and opened fire on a group of people standing on the block — two of whom fired back.
One of the bullets hit Zamar, who was on his porch next to his toy race car and scooter.
His family and neighbors rushed to his side. A nurse who lives on the block performed CPR on the boy until a police officer lifted him into a squad car — in especially dire cases, Philadelphia police officers will not wait for medics to arrive — and raced to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
On Sunday, Zamar remained there in critical condition, while neighbors on Simpson Street held a prayer vigil and tried to organize help for his family. Police were holding one man in custody Sunday and searching for two others.
The shooting on Simpson Street was part of a weekend of gun violence across the city, in which two people were killed and seven more, including Zamar, were wounded.
Earlier in the evening on Saturday, a man working on his car in North Philadelphia was killed when another man walked up to him, demanded he empty his pockets, and then shot him. Around midnight Saturday, one man was killed and another injured in a shooting at a drag race in Philadelphia’s Port Richmond section. Early Sunday morning, police said, five women were injured in a shooting at a house in Kensington.
Police officials said Zamar’s shooting was a tragedy of a different magnitude.
“While every act of gun violence is lamentable,” Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said in a statement, “it is especially tragic when the victim is among our most vulnerable; and it is our collective responsibility — police, and community — to ensure that our children are safe and well-protected.”
Police said the case began when a man was driving a blue or silver Chevy Silverado south on Simpson Street around 7:40 p.m. on Saturday. As he passed a group of people standing outside a house on the block, the driver pointed a gun out of his window and opened fire.
The man kept driving, police said, and two other men standing on the street pulled their own guns and began to shoot at the truck. Fleeing, the driver rear-ended a GMC Yukon — and then jumped into the SUV he had just crashed into, driving away on Race Street.
After police arrived on Simpson Street, the man returned to the block and tried to get back into his Silverado, police said. They chased him to the 6300 block of Race Street, where he was arrested. Police are still searching for the other two men, who fled the scene in a maroon Ford Taurus, which police later found on the 200 block of North 64th Street.
Police have not yet identified the man in custody, saying they would do so when an investigation into the shooting is completed or the man is formally charged.
Neighbors on Simpson Street said they were relieved that someone had been taken into custody, but with Zamar still in critical condition, solace was hard to come by. “They have one guy — it’s better than none,” said Sean Doreen Smith, whose 7-year-old grandson is friends with Zamar.
Smith had called her grandson inside from playing just before the gunfire began. As soon as he stepped in the house, she said, shots rang out. When she heard Zamar had been hit, Smith said, she fainted.
“Everyone is really shaken,” she said. But the block has rallied around Lee and her family, organizing a prayer service and vowing to offer any help they can.
On Sunday, after the block prayed together, neighbor Makeeba McNeely made call after call, trying to find a place for the family to stay for the night. In her shock and grief, Lee could barely bring herself to drive down Simpson Street, let alone enter her home, McNeely said.
Lee, her husband Rasheem McDonald, and her six children have lived on the block for several years, and have formed close friendships with the other families, said McNeely, who lives a few doors down and described Lee as being like a sister.
Zamar, McNeely said, wasted no time in charming the residents of Simpson Street. “He has best friends from the top of the block to the bottom of the block,” said McNeely’s daughter, 13-year-old Zion.
Zamar is known for loving popsicles, his prized lime-green scooter, and his pets, a dog and a cat, the McNeelys said. He’s set to enter the second grade this fall, and has regularly done chores for neighbors, running errands at the corner store.
“He’s a beautiful kid,” McNeely said. “Inquisitive, curious — he’s a little boy. And he was playing.”