Lennora Mahmoud quietly bent over in the midafternoon heat, gingerly grabbed two fistfuls of earth, and sprinkled them over the ground where a bouquet of red roses lay and her 21-year-old son, Salahaldin, had just been laid to rest.
His body was buried in Upper Darby by family and friends — scores of them — who took turns shoveling dirt onto the grave while mourning Mahmoud, one of two young men fatally shot during a July 4 cookout in West Philadelphia.
Among those mourning Mahmoud was Sharif Street, the state senator who hours earlier on Tuesday stood with other lawmakers in the shadow of City Hall in what’s become a familiar scene: public officials and community advocates standing together after tragedy and calling for stronger gun-safety laws.
This time, tragedy hit Street’s own family. Mahmoud, who was starting his own business and was described as “always smiling,” was the cousin of Street’s wife, April. The couple said Mahmoud was like a nephew to them.
“This is not the first time I have buried a child like this,” Street said. “It is unusual but unfortunately not shocking. It’s tragic but not unexpected that we would be here at some point in time.”
Mahmoud was one of more than 50 people who were shot in Philadelphia during the first five days of July, according to police statistics, a grim continuation of the city’s unrelenting surge in gun violence.
The gunfire wounded teens, including a 14-year-old hospitalized in extremely critical condition after being shot in the head Monday in Strawberry Mansion. A stray bullet struck the arm of a Drexel University student watching fireworks in Drexel Park on Sunday night. And dozens of shots tore through the Fourth of July cookout in West Philadelphia on Sunday night, killing Mahmoud and Sircarr Johnson, Jr., a 23-year-old father and entrepreneur.
Police did not announce arrests in any of those cases or provide further details on the crimes Tuesday.
The violence this month peaked Sunday, when 18 people across the city were struck by gunfire, and four of them died. In all, the statistics show, 54 people have been shot since the beginning of the month, 10 fatally.
Through Monday night, 285 people had been killed in Philadelphia homicides this year — a 36% increase compared with last year, and more than were slain in all of 2016. Shootings have killed or injured 1,133 people in the city so far this year, nearly as many people as were shot in all of 2017, police statistics show.
The lawmakers and advocates who gathered outside City Hall on Tuesday morning to discuss the ongoing crisis called for witnesses of the cookout shooting to come forward with information. Police believe two shooters sprayed bullets through a crowd of dozens of people celebrating the holiday.
“We can’t have a city where people are shot down in the street on July the Fourth, and no one will come forward,” District Attorney Larry Krasner said. “We can’t have that.”
Street said more than half of the members of his staff have buried loved ones lost to gun violence over the last five years. He said progress will be fleeting until his colleagues in Harrisburg pass gun-safety legislation addressing background checks, assault weapons, and homemade firearms.
He wondered aloud: “How many legislators are going to have to stand here and talk about our family members being killed?”
State Rep. Joanna McClinton, the House Democratic leader who has an office a block from where the cookout shooting took place, added that “legislation alone will not solve these problems.” She called on local, state, and federal law enforcement to better identify how guns flow into the city and intervene.
“We need to figure out who these groups are and where these guns are coming from,” she said. “We are not just standing here today to be in front of cameras. We are standing here to say, ‘We need help.’”
Hours later, the bloodshed persisted. Around 12:30 p.m., a 24-year-old man was shot twice in the leg in West Philadelphia. Two hours later and six miles away, a 27-year-old man was shot three times in North Philadelphia. He was hospitalized in critical condition.