Philadelphia police on Monday identified the officer who shot a 25-year-old Ethiopian immigrant Wednesday in West Philadelphia.
Officer Kevin Pfeifer, a four-year department veteran working in the 18th District, fired multiple shots at Kaleb Belay in the 4900 block of Hazel Avenue, police said in a news release. Belay has been charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, and possessing an instrument of crime.
Police said Pfeifer and his unnamed partner had responded to a radio call for a “person with a weapon/report of a stabbing” about 6:50 p.m. When they arrived, they spotted Belay emerging from behind a bush wielding a black-handled steak knife in his left hand, police said.
Pfeifer and his partner pulled out their handguns and started backing away from Belay, police said. The officers ordered Belay to drop the 5-inch knife several times, police said, but Belay continued to walk toward them carrying the weapon.
Pfeifer fired multiple times, police said, hitting Belay in the chest. The knife was recovered at the scene.
Online police records show no other shooting incidents involving Pfeifer. He was placed on desk duty pending the outcome of an internal investigation into the shooting, police said Monday.
Police drove Belay to Penn-Presbyterian Medical Center, where he was listed in critical condition Monday.
Belay, a bookkeeper at Booker’s Restaurant & Bar on Baltimore Avenue in West Philadelphia and a former Temple University student majoring in financial analysis and risk management, was on a breathing machine, his employer, Saba Tedla, said Monday afternoon.
“His lungs have been compromised a lot,” she said, adding that he could barely speak but is expected to survive. She said Belay enrolled at Temple in August and began working at the restaurant in October as a busboy before being promoted to a server and then to overseeing payroll.
“He was a very interpretive, sharp guy,” Tedla said. “The thing that I’m very concerned about is how he could be a threat to the police.”
She said she also was concerned that the official police account omitted something a Police Department investigator had told her Wednesday — that Belay was the one who had called 911. “We don’t know the nature of why he called 911, but he is the initiator of the call,” Tedla said.
She said Sgt. Jason Hendershot of the Internal Affairs division had told her Belay had placed the call. A police spokesperson declined to discuss Tedla’s account.
The recent death of his father in Ethiopia had caused Belay to stop attending classes at Temple, said Nazareth Teklesenbet, a friend of Belay’s who owns several properties near the shooting scene. He was planning to attend Community College of Philadelphia to take supplemental classes and return to Temple next semester, Teklesenbet said.
The shooting caused a stir in Belay’s neighborhood, where he lived with a roommate. On Sunday afternoon, more than 100 of Belay’s neighbors and friends gathered at an Ethiopian community center in West Philadelphia to voice concern over the shooting.
An Ethiopian native standing Monday on the porch of a home fronting the sidewalk where the shooting took place said he was one of Belay’s two roommates.
“We’ve had plenty of talks here between me and him, so I can’t explain this,” said the roommate, who declined to give his name but said he recently graduated from La Salle University with a master’s degree in clinical psychology. “We all want to get to the bottom of this.”
The roommate said of Belay: “He was awesome. Normally our conversations were about school. He would ask me when I graduated, what the market looks like in terms of jobs, and so forth. He was talking about interning or working for Chase.”
Frances Smith, 83, who has lived across the street from the shooting scene since 1962, said Wednesday’s gunfire had rattled her.
“I was peeping out the door when I heard the shots,” she said Monday, sitting on her porch with a cigarette. “I didn’t go outside. You know how stupid people are, running out to see what happened. You could be shot yourself.”
To try to lift Belay’s mood, Tedla and Teklesenbet brought balloons to his hospital room Monday afternoon. “We were trying to get bright colors that were boy-looking,” Teklesenbet said. “They had a lot of pink, so I said, ‘Let’s try and find something manly.’ Something to cheer him up.”
She said that police guarding the room wouldn’t let them take cell-phone photos of Belay, but that they were among many community members who visited him.