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Mother of 15-year-old homicide victim says members of Congress used her tragedy for ‘a photo op’

Lendale Rogers said no one told her that elected officials would be standing where her daughter was shot and invoking her name.

Lendale Rogers (left), Simone-Monea Rogers' mother, stands at a balloon release for her daughter at the Jerome Brown playground in North Philadelphia about a week after she was killed there while playing basketball. Simone-Monea's father is at right.
Lendale Rogers (left), Simone-Monea Rogers' mother, stands at a balloon release for her daughter at the Jerome Brown playground in North Philadelphia about a week after she was killed there while playing basketball. Simone-Monea's father is at right.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

Lendale Rogers keeps meticulous notes about the death of her child. She records every conversation she has with investigators about her 15-year-old daughter, Simone-Monea, who was fatally shot in August while playing basketball at a North Philadelphia playground.

She writes an entry each time bullets rip through her neighborhood — most recently on Dec. 28, when seven strays lodged in her brick home at 10:30 in the morning while her three children were inside.

And she keeps track of the umpteen attempts she has made to get financial help to relocate her family “out of a battleground” — to no avail.

So she was baffled Wednesday when she walked to the Jerome Brown Playground, where her daughter was killed, to find four members of Congress, flanked by top police brass, speaking about her daughter, lamenting that the case is unsolved, and touting a billion-dollar federal proposal aimed at helping police investigate shootings and support victims.

Rogers said no one told her.

“It’s like a slap in the face,” she said.

The event was a news conference hosted by Rep. Dwight Evans, a Democrat whose district includes the western part of North Philadelphia and a lead cosponsor of the legislation, which would provide a billion dollars in grants over a decade to police departments across the country. Reps. Mary Gay Scanlon and Brendan Boyle, both Democrats, and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican, and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw also attended.

Sgt. Eric Gripp, a police spokesperson, said that the news conference was arranged by Evans’ office and that, in the course of planning the event, a member of the Police Department suggested the Jerome Brown Playground as a possible location since the killing that took place there remains unsolved.

Ben Turner, a spokesperson for Evans’ office, said in an email that several speakers highlighted Rogers and her family’s experience, including Evans, who said: “None of us know that pain that she has. But this is something that we have to work at every day to beat this problem.”

Turner didn’t respond to questions about whether anyone had contacted Rogers or her family before the news conference.

Rogers said she found out because a neighbor texted her saying politicians were holding an event “with your daughter as the backdrop,” adding: “I thought maybe you would be there. At least I would have thought they would have invited you.”

» READ MORE: A community says goodbye to Simone-Monea Rogers, a 15-year-old fatally shot

So Rogers walked a block to the recreation center to find Fitzpatrick speaking about “a beautiful young girl who had just turned 15 years old.” Rogers called out: “I’m her mother. I’m Simone’s mother.” Fitzpatrick invited her to stand with him behind the lectern, and she declined, saying: “The photo ops. This is what the city does. ... Cameras. No action.”

After the news conference ended, Scanlon spoke to Rogers privately. Outlaw consoled her, and Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Naish updated her on the status of the investigation. Homicide detectives have some leads but have requested additional help from the public and witnesses in order to make an arrest, Gripp said. Investigators have long believed Simone-Monea was not the shooter’s intended target.

Rogers said that if she had been given some notice of the event, she would have gladly supported the effort and the legislation, “especially if it was involving Simone and implementing programs that will help and be effective.”

Instead she feels increasingly that her pleas for support to elected officials and community groups have gone unanswered. Moving her three children and her mother costs more than she can afford, she said, and the money raised by community members after Simone-Monea’s death was used to cover the costs of the funeral. The wait list for public housing in Philadelphia has been closed for years.

» READ MORE: In Philadelphia, the available housing subsidies can't meet the need

Her desire to leave the Tioga neighborhood turned into desperation just after Christmas, she said, when bullets flew into the front of her home. Shooters appeared to be targeting a man standing on the sidewalk, and Rogers’ three children were just inside the front door. They got on the ground. Bullets were inches from coming through a window.

“We’re being traumatized with the same violence over, and over, and over,” Rogers said.

She tries to be strong, especially in front of her 6-year-old, Carlee, who carries around a doll named Simone. But she can’t help but break down when she remembers that August evening. Sometimes she cries alone in the kitchen when she accidentally prepares four plates of food for her children, then realizes she needs only three.

Still, she’s holding out hope that one day she can look back at her journal and feel pride when she rereads an entry she wrote months ago, not long after her daughter died. It’s a list of seven Philadelphia zip codes that see less gun violence than the one where she lives now.