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ME’s rulings in couple’s July 4 Penn’s Landing drownings leave unanswered questions

The Medical Examiner's Office listed the manner of Anjania Patterson's death as "undetermined" and that of Timothy Siler as "accidental."

Anjania Patterson's mother Denise Johnson (second from left), father Michael Patterson, and daughter, Adrianah Patterson-Siler, 6, hold a vigil near the site of her death along the Delaware River at Penn's Landing on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, what would have been Patterson's 29th birthday.
Anjania Patterson's mother Denise Johnson (second from left), father Michael Patterson, and daughter, Adrianah Patterson-Siler, 6, hold a vigil near the site of her death along the Delaware River at Penn's Landing on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, what would have been Patterson's 29th birthday.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

After the bodies of Anjania Patterson and Timothy Siler were recovered July 4 from the Delaware River at Penn’s Landing, police initially determined the deaths to be accidental. The unmarried couple’s 5-year-old daughter was found safe in Siler’s SUV parked by the river.

But Patterson’s relatives suspected foul play because of Siler’s history of alleged abuse against her. They believed that Siler, 39, had pushed Patterson, 28, into the river, killing her, then jumped into the river, killing himself.

Siler’s family says that didn’t happen. One brother believes that Siler jumped into the river to save Patterson after she fell in, and that both tragically died.

More than three months later, the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office on Wednesday released its conclusions on the deaths. The cause for both: Drowning. The manner of Patterson’s death was “undetermined,” while Siler’s was “accidental.”

“I’m mad about everything,” Patterson’s mother, Denise Johnson, said by phone Friday. “It still brings us no closure. My daughter’s still dead.”

The day after police recovered the bodies from the river near the 700 block of South Christopher Columbus Boulevard, police spokespeople told reporters that foul play did not appear to be involved.

They based their initial assessments in part on surveillance video from the Residences at Dockside condominium, which showed Siler’s Nissan SUV parking on the boulevard at 2:38 a.m. July 4. It showed the two walking separately toward the railing that separates the sidewalk from the river, but did not capture the moments when Patterson and Siler went in.

Police Capt. Robert Zaffino of the South Detective Division said in recent interviews that because of the video and the fact that Patterson’s shoes and cell phone “were neatly placed by the railing ... as if she neatly put it there,” police initially believed both deaths were accidental.

The placement of her shoes and cell phone led police to believe there had been “no physical altercation” between Patterson and Siler, Zaffino said Friday.

Now, based on the ME’s conclusions, “we’re going to go with what they found” regarding the manners of death, Zaffino said.

How the two died “may be something we’ll never know,” the captain said recently.

Siler’s brother Clay Siler, 40, of Philadelphia, reached by phone Friday, said: “There’s no way in the world he pushed her into the water. He loved that girl and he loved his daughter.”

“Everybody in my family knows Tim didn’t do anything to [Patterson],” he said. “I just wish they were both here.”

‘She loved life’

Patterson grew up in the Abbotsford Homes in East Falls, where her mother still lives. She had met Siler about a decade ago, then moved in with him in his home in Wissinoming.

Siler had been abusive toward Patterson, who finally “got up the nerve” to leave his home with their daughter around February or March, Patterson’s aunt, Sandra Johnson, has said.

Denise Johnson said Patterson and her daughter, Adrianah Patterson-Siler, moved into an apartment in Tacony. Patterson was working two jobs as a nursing assistant, her family said.

“She loved life” and wouldn’t have wanted to end it, her aunt said.

Court records show that in 2009, Siler, who worked as a materials handler for a manufacturing company, was charged with aggravated assault and possession of an instrument of crime after allegedly slashing Patterson several times on her face and shoulder. After calling police, she was treated at a hospital. City jail records show that Siler spent about five months behind bars while awaiting hearings, but the charges were withdrawn in 2010 after Patterson did not show up in court.

In 2013, Siler was charged with terroristic threats and simple assault after he allegedly pushed Patterson into a window, shattering the glass and causing an injury that required medical treatment, court records show. Charges in that case were withdrawn, but records do not say why.

The ME’s conclusions provide no solace to Patterson’s mother, who is now the primary caregiver for Patterson’s daughter, now 6.

The family has tried to retrieve Patterson’s belongings from the Tacony apartment, but hasn’t been able to gain access. The landlord’s family has been uncooperative, Johnson said.

Efforts to contact the landlord and her daughter for comment were unsuccessful.

Johnson also said that during the more than three months’ wait for the cause of death from the ME’s Office, she had not been able to obtain death-insurance benefits from one of her daughter’s jobs. The insurance would help toward raising her granddaughter.

Her younger daughter, Irene Patterson, set up a GoFundMe account for Adrianah.

James Garrow, spokesperson for the ME’s Office, said that the office “understands the trauma of these situations and empathizes with the need for closure and support. It’s important to remember that these investigations are not ever easy and sometimes not prompt, but we strive to ensure that families and next of kin get the correct information about their loved one’s death.”

A birthday vigil

On Sept. 18, what would have been Patterson’s 29th birthday, Johnson, 10 other relatives, and a family friend held an evening vigil near where her body was recovered. They stood by the blue-painted metal railing that lines the sidewalk on Columbus Boulevard.

Holding hands in a circle, they listened as Sandra Johnson led a prayer.

They released purple balloons, Patterson’s favorite color. Although they tried to release the balloons toward the river, the wind blew them away from the waters in which Patterson lost her life.