The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office on Wednesday dropped all charges against an 18-year-old Mastery Charter student accused of fatally shooting his twin brother this month in their father’s Overbrook apartment, and DA Larry Krasner said the father “is responsible.”

At an afternoon news conference, Krasner said the twins’ father, Aleem Gillard, a convicted felon, had been showing his sons and 16-year-old daughter how to use a gun when his son Fayaadh accidentally shot his brother, Suhail.

“Upon further and careful investigation, we have concluded while Fayaadh did pull the trigger, he did not do so with criminal intent,” Krasner told reporters. “This was a horrific accident for which the whole family will suffer, but for which he should not be held criminally liable under these circumstances.”

The father should not have been in possession of a firearm because he is a convicted felon, Krasner said. And he “should not have encouraged his three children … to play with a firearm, and after the accidental shooting … should not have instructed his two surviving, traumatized children to lie so that he could keep himself out of prison.”

“We believe Aleem Gillard is responsible for the death of his child Suhail, and he will be treated accordingly. Investigation on that point is ongoing,” said Krasner, who declined to say whether charges would be filed against the father.

Earlier in the day, Assistant District Attorney Ashley Toczylowski told Municipal Court Judge Thomas Gehret that her office was dropping charges of murder, possession of an instrument of crime, unsworn falsification to authorities, and obstructing justice against Fayaadh Gillard. A scheduled preliminary hearing for Gillard — who had been free on bail — was canceled.

Police had responded to the father’s apartment in the 1100 block of North 63rd Street at 5:23 p.m. Dec. 1 and found Suhail Gillard shot in the chest. They took him to Lankenau Medical Center, where he died that night.

Toczylowski said at the news conference that Aleem Gillard, 42, was showing the three children how to use two firearms in his apartment that day. He was “demonstrating how to use it, showing them specifics about the firearm, how to load, unload, how to actually eject bullets, and then the firearms were given to the children to essentially mimic what he was doing and at that point, that’s when the fatal shooting happened.” The children lived primarily with their mother, she said. She declined to comment on the father’s criminal past.

The twins were seniors and football players at the Mastery Charter School Lenfest Campus at 35 S. Fourth St. in Old City, where Suhail Gillard was described by fellow students as a star football player. Police have said the brothers lived on the 1100 block of Harrison Street in Frankford.

A memorial for Suhail Gillard was seen inside the Mastery Charter School Lenfest Campus on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. Gillard, a star football player, was fatally shot by his twin brother, Fayaadh, in an accident, the DA's Office determined.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
A memorial for Suhail Gillard was seen inside the Mastery Charter School Lenfest Campus on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. Gillard, a star football player, was fatally shot by his twin brother, Fayaadh, in an accident, the DA's Office determined.

In an emailed statement Wednesday afternoon, Mastery Charter Schools offered public support to Fayaadh and his family.

“Having the charges dropped relieves a tremendous burden for the family,” the statement said. “The tragic reality, however, is that regardless of the court decision, Fayaadh is grieving in a way that is beyond comprehension. We will continue to support him and his family through this difficult time.”

Online court records show that the father three times had been convicted of possessing illegal firearms.

  • He pleaded guilty in February 2015 to felony firearm-possession charges stemming from a 2013 arrest and was sentenced to 2½ to 5 months in jail, with immediate parole, plus 10 years’ probation.
  • He pleaded guilty in 2006 to misdemeanor firearm-possession charges and was sentenced to 11½ to 23 months in jail, with immediate parole, plus three years’ probation.
  • He was convicted in 1998 of misdemeanor firearm-possession charges.
  • Also, in 2003, he pleaded guilty to unauthorized use of an auto and was sentenced to two years’ probation. And in 1998, he was convicted of simple assault and driving under the influence stemming from a 1997 arrest.