Relatives, activists hold meeting in Sharon Hill about the shooting of Fanta Bility
Relatives of the victim and one of the young men arrested for the crime both want justice.
In a cold school parking lot in Sharon Hill, Delaware County, on Saturday afternoon, two men who’d been strangers until a shooting linked them forever struggled to find words that could convey their grief and anger.
Abu Bility, the uncle of Fanta Bility, 8, who was mistakenly killed by police on Aug. 27, said he was looking for justice for his niece. Authorities say police were responding to gunfire between two teens at a football game at Academy Park High School when the girl was shot.
Larry Strand, the father of Hasein Strand, 18, one of two teens whose actions led authorities to charge them with first-degree murder in the shooting, said that all he wanted was justice for his son.
Both men stood near each other at the same community meeting near the high school, yearning for the same thing, from different parts of the same tragedy.
“Fanta was a sweet girl who’d run to hug me,” Bility, 43, a cabdriver from Southwest Philadelphia, said in an interview. “I miss a lot of things about her. It was a police gunshot that hit my niece and I want the people who killed her held accountable.”
Strand, a 46-year-old independent delivery man from Collingdale, said in an interview: “I have no answers for my son when he asks me why he’s in jail. He’s confused because he knows he didn’t shoot Fanta. All I can offer him is to remain strong in his religious faith.”
Bility and Strand were among 50 people at the outdoor meeting, sponsored by two community groups from Delaware County: UDTJ (Understanding, Devotion, Take Action, Justice), and Delco Resists.
Organizers railed against the county District Attorney’s Office, as well as local police, for their roles in the knotty case.
Authorities say Hasein Strand and Angelo “AJ” Ford, 16, engaged in a verbal confrontation that turned into gunfire on the 900 block of Coates Street, one block west of the entrance to the Academy Park High School football stadium after a game. The two missed each other in the exchange but wounded a bystander.
When police arrived, county prosecutors said, three officers fired at a vehicle they mistakenly believed was connected to the shooting. One of their bullets flew past the car and killed Fanta, striking her in the torso. Her older sister and two others were wounded.
Prosecutors have not named the officers, citing a grand jury investigation into whether criminal charges should be filed against them. A spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office would not comment on the Saturday meeting.
“Police should not have shot without a clear target. It’s hard to believe they were trained at all,“ said Ashley Dolceamore, cofounder of Delco Resists. “And two teenagers shouldn’t be taking full responsibility for what happened.”
She and others questioned why the officers involved in the shooting are not known while Strand and Ford have been publicly named.
In the shooting, the office of Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer is applying a legal concept called “transferred intent,” saying the teens’ actions directly led to Fanta’s death.
“Under the laws of this Commonwealth, my office has determined that Ford and Strand should both be held criminally liable for the murder of Fanta Bility, as well as for the wounding of all of the bystanders,” Stollsteimer said in a statement.
In a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Fanta’s family, attorney Bruce L. Castor said that the officers were “deliberately indifferent and reckless” in firing into a crowd after responding to a reported shooting, and that the borough and its police chief had given the officers “tacit approval” to behave in that manner. Castor spoke briefly at Saturday’s gathering.
One rally participant, Mario Cimino, a former borough council president of Morton, said the calamity of an innocent in a crowd being killed by authorities reminded him of the shootings at Kent State University in 1970, when the Ohio National Guard fired into a group of demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine.
Cimino displayed the lyrics to “Ohio,” a song Neil Young wrote about the Kent State shootings, on a poster on his windshield: “What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground? How can you run when you know?”