Philadelphia police officers shot and killed a rifle-wielding man in Germantown before dawn Thursday after a chaotic scene that authorities said began when the man fired shots inside a church, stole a car and crashed it, killed a 19-year-old woman in an attempted carjacking, and fired at least one shot at officers who responded and chased him.
The episode began around 4 a.m., said Sgt. Eric Gripp, a police spokesperson, when the 29-year-old man entered St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and shot at a church worker, missing her. The man, whom Gripp did not identify, then took the woman’s keys, stole her car and drove it down Greene Street before crashing near Chelten Avenue.
After the crash, Gripp said, the man fired several shots at a passing motorist, who was able to drive away. He then tried to steal another car, Gripp said. During that attempted carjacking, he shot a 19-year-old woman who was behind the steering wheel, then ran away without taking the car, according to Gripp.
Officers responded to the scene of that shooting, on the 5900 block of Maplewood Avenue, around 4:15 a.m., Gripp said. They transported the woman who was shot to Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, where she was pronounced dead.
Police said the woman appeared to have no connection to the other people the gunman shot at.
As officers responded to the shooting scene on Maplewood, another set of officers arrived at Greene Street and Chelten Avenue, Gripp said, where they found a man holding an “AK-47-style assault rifle.” Officers asked him to drop his weapon, Gripp said, but he continued to point the gun at them.
Gripp said officers fired at the man but do not believe they hit him. Still on foot, the man ran north on Greene Street until he encountered another set of officers in a vacant lot on West Rittenhouse Street. Gripp said the man fired at least one shot, striking a marked police car, and officers returned fire, killing him.
Four officers fired shots during the incident, Gripp said. None was injured.
Just before 11 a.m., blocks radiating from the intersection of Chelten and Greene were still roped off with yellow police tape. The black Infiniti in which the woman was slain still sat protected by police in a municipal parking lot at the corner of Greene and Armat Streets.
In the middle of the intersection of Greene and Chelten, police placed 16 small orange cones where bullet casings had fallen.
Homicide Detective John Harkins said police were still seeking to determine a possible motive, saying: “The investigation is in its infancy.”
Rellina Burroughs, 59, who lives on the third floor of an apartment building on the 5600 block of Greene Street, said thunderous gunfire woke her shortly before 4 a.m.
“The shots sounded like they were right underneath my bathroom window, it woke me and my granddaughter," she said. "And I said, ‘That’s not a regular gun.’ It sounded like an explosion almost. I just started calling on the Lord.”
Burroughs said that a neighbor who lived a floor beneath her survived being shot at by the gunman, and that she heard the woman screaming and yelling with her husband minutes after the gunfire had stopped.
Burroughs has lived in the building for seven years, but said she now wanted “out of here.” In addition to the shootings that killed the woman and the gunman, police said a 30-year-old man was shot four times in the back just after midnight on the 100 block of Chelten Avenue — the same area as Thursday morning’s shooting.
Dozens of Germantown blocks remained closed to traffic Thursday afternoon, causing chaos and confusion for people trying to carry out routine tasks. Gloria Fields was on SEPTA’s 65 bus on Germantown Avenue approaching Haines Street when the driver stopped, announced there was an emergency, and told the seven passengers they had to get off the bus, she said.
Germantown Avenue was closed to traffic at the intersection, just a block from where some of the early-morning gunfire took place.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen in our lives," said Fields, as she stood on the corner trying to figure out how to get to a bank within a roped-off block. "I don’t understand it. And an innocent woman lost her life. It’s just so sad.”