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Waiting for a bus and shot in the leg: A victim tries to make sense of the shooting at Olney Transportation Center

Even if the shooters had a target, authorities believe nearly all of the victims were innocent bystanders. One woman was shot while waiting for a bus to work.

Philadelphia Police investigate the scene at Broad and Olney where eight people were shot at about 3 p.m. Wednesday,  Feb. 17, 2021.
Philadelphia Police investigate the scene at Broad and Olney where eight people were shot at about 3 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

The woman was on her way to work when she reached the crowded corner of Broad Street and Olney Avenue, home to one of the city’s busier transportation hubs, just a little past 2:45 on a sunny Wednesday afternoon.

She peered down Olney, saw her bus about two blocks away, then shuffled to get in line to board.

That’s when she heard the gunshots. People screamed, ducked, ran — and she started running, too.

She took cover in front of a nearby business. Then noticed the blood coming out of her thigh.

Ultimately, she became one of eight people shot during that burst of gunfire, Philadelphia’s most violent episode in an already-bloody 2021. A day after the shooting, police on Thursday said they believed at least two masked men had opened fire from the south side of Olney Avenue, but they were still seeking suspects and a motive.

They said they believe nearly all the victims were bystanders, going about their daily routines when bullets flew across a busy intersection in broad daylight.

It was a sobering fact that reinforced a growing reality in a city where at least 270 people have been shot since Jan. 1 — a 66% increase over the same span last year.

“It takes your peace of mind away,” the woman, who asked not to be publicly identified, told The Inquirer. Violence “is going to happen again,” she said. “And it just sucks there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Lost in the glare of that North Philadelphia shooting was the fact that four others also occurred citywide on Wednesday, injuring five more people.

The gunfire near the Olney Transportation Center — in a typically bustling commercial strip that includes Girls’ High School and Einstein Medical Center and is not far from La Salle University — wounded two females and six men ranging in age from 17 to 71. The oldest, a man, remained in critical condition Thursday after being shot in the stomach and legs.

It was the highest number of victims struck in a single incident in the city since at least 2017, when nine people were shot at a block party in North Philadelphia. That was eclipsed in recent years only by an incident in 2015, when 10 people — including a toddler, an 11-year-old girl, and a 13-year-old boy — were struck by birdshot from a shotgun at a West Philadelphia cookout.

Last year, police data show, officers responded to two incidents with seven shooting victims: On June 8, one man died and six people were injured when gunmen fired more than 50 shots in the courtyard of an apartment complex at Eighth and Spring Garden Streets. On Oct. 8 in Frankford, a shooter opened fire on the 4900 block of Frankford Avenue, killing one man and injuring six others.

Still, Wednesday’s shooting was unusual for another reason: Since 2015, every other incident with five or more shooting victims occurred between May and October, when the warmer weather brings more people outside.

The shooting at Broad and Olney occurred in the midst of a pandemic. The temperature hovered around freezing.

Police on Wednesday took two men into custody at the scene, both of whom police said had guns. But Chief Inspector Frank Vanore, commander of the detective bureau, said Thursday that investigators had not linked either man to the shooting. Both were charged with illegal gun possession and related counts — but not for participating in the gunfire.

A law enforcement source who wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss the case said the guns police recovered from those men did not appear to have been fired during the incident.

Vanore said detectives were continuing to review video from the scene, including from a nearby SEPTA bus.

Still, it was not clear who the gunmen were — or whom they may have been targeting. Investigators have interviewed all eight victims, but sources said just one of them told police he had any reason to think he could have been the target, citing an ongoing feud on social media.

Officers found at least 18 fired cartridge casings at the scene, according to police. The victims were hit in their backs, ankles, legs, and arms.

Mayor Jim Kenney called the incident “vicious, outrageous, and unacceptable,” and — with police reporting 71 homicides through Wednesday, a 42% increase over last year — he pledged more “transparency and accountability” regarding efforts by the police and city to combat the gun violence.

The woman shot in the leg said she was sore but fortunate her fate wasn’t worse. Still, she said she would need time to recover and process what happened — and then move forward.

“There’s no way to prevent that — you can’t police everybody,” she added. “Life still has to go on, right? I can’t stay locked up in my house all my life.”

Staff writer Ellie Rushing contributed to this article.