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Four young men charged in the fatal Roxborough High shooting should stand trial, judge orders

Law enforcement showed how they used DNA evidence and cell phone and GPS location data to tie the suspects to the crime scenes.

Dropped football equipment and evidence markers on the scene behind Roxborough High School in Philadelphia on Sept. 27.  A 14-year-old boy was killed and four others were injured in the shooting.
Dropped football equipment and evidence markers on the scene behind Roxborough High School in Philadelphia on Sept. 27. A 14-year-old boy was killed and four others were injured in the shooting.Read moreMONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer

Four young men accused of opening fire outside Roxborough High School last year, killing a 14-year-old and wounding four other teens, should stand trial for murder, aggravated assault, and related crimes, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Troy Fletcher, 15; Saleem Miller, 16; Zyhied Jones, 17; and Yaaseen Bivins, 21, were arrested last fall after police said they ambushed a group of young football players, firing more than 60 shots as the youths walked toward the locker room after a junior varsity scrimmage Sept. 27.

Nicolas Elizalde, a freshman at Saul High School and new addition to the team, was fatally struck in the chest by a stray bullet. Four other teens, ages 14 to 17, were injured. One boy was shot nine times but survived.

» READ MORE: The mother of Roxborough shooting victim Nicolas Elizalde, 14, has a message: ‘He isn’t a number’

A fifth shooter, whom police have identified as Dayron Burney-Thorne, 16, remains a fugitive. A sixth person, presumably the getaway driver, has not been identified.

Jones and Fletcher were also held for trial on charges related to a separate murder police say they committed the day before. Prosecutors said the teens fatally shot Tahmir Jones, 19, who is not related to Zyhied Jones, outside his North Philadelphia home Sept. 26.

Although authorities say the shooters went to great lengths to conceal their whereabouts, law enforcement officials laid out in significant detail how they used DNA evidence and cell phone and GPS location data to tie them to the crime scenes.

Prosecutors did not detail a motive for the shooting, but police have said they believe it was in retaliation for an earlier shooting. And surveillance video from the scene showed the shooters were targeting at least one boy. As shots rang out and children fled, a shooter chased after one teen. After the boy collapsed, the shooter stood over him and attempted to continue firing at near point-blank range, but his gun was out of bullets.

All four defendants’ lawyers declined to comment Tuesday.

The shooting shook the city, with local leaders, celebrities, and professional athletes questioning where Philadelphia’s children, if not at school or playing sports, could be safe — and how those responsible for the crime could be so young.

Meanwhile, the Elizalde family’s life has been changed forever. In the courtroom Tuesday, at the first mention of her son’s name, Meredith Elizalde dropped her head to her chest and started to sob.

Tahmir Jones’ family was equally distraught. As police played video footage of her son’s shooting, Theresa Guyton ran out of the courtroom in tears.

The shooting outside Roxborough High erupted just after 4:30 p.m., and the offenders fled in a green Ford Explorer.

Police found the car abandoned in Southwest Philadelphia the next day. The car was equipped with cellular and internet service that tracks the vehicle’s location history and all devices connected to it, giving police a window into its exact whereabouts before and after the shooting.

That data showed that a phone whose owner named the device “Northside DayDay” — with a number that police say matches Burney-Thorne’s — was connected to the vehicle multiple times, including the day after the Roxborough shooting. They extracted and reviewed all Burney-Thorne’s phone records, and subsequently determined the other defendants’ contact information, prosecutors said.

Inside the car, prosecutors said police found a yellow latex glove with Miller’s DNA. And on the ground at the scene, close to where the car was parked, they recovered a small Ziploc bag of marijuana with Jones’ DNA.

Using the car’s location data and surveillance video, investigators traced the car back to a parking lot in North Philadelphia before the shooting. Video showed a group of four people exit a Chevy Impala and get into the Explorer, before it headed toward Roxborough.

» READ MORE: Guns used in Roxborough shooting later ended up in the hands of a Philadelphia sheriff’s deputy

Police later recovered that Impala, which they determined belonged to Bivins. Inside was a receipt that showed Bivins had purchased ammunition at a South Philadelphia gun shop a few days earlier. Ballistic testing later determined that those bullets had been used in the shooting, prosecutors said.

Investigators also found a photograph of a handgun in Miller’s phone that had a serial number matching a weapon used in the shooting. Data connected to the photo showed it was taken two days after the shooting, according to prosecutors, but they could not say with certainty whether Miller took it.

Prosecutors said the car’s location data, as well as defendants’ phones and cell phone towers, also placed Jones, Fletcher, and Burney-Thorne around Roxborough High School about two hours before the shooting. Assistant District Attorney Helen Park said this was to potentially stake out the scene, or an earlier attempt to find their target.

» READ MORE: Why the accused Roxborough gunman was out on bail at the time of the shooting, despite his conviction for another crime

Prosecutors said the same data placed the young men within close vicinity of each other and along the same general path of the Explorer, to and from the crime scene. And it also showed that they called each other multiple times the day of the shooting.

“Everywhere the Ford is at, these phones are at ... even as it’s fleeing a murder scene,” Homicide Detective Robert Daly said.

In Bivins’ phone, prosecutors said, they recovered a short video recorded just two hours after the shooting. It showed two young men, believed by prosecutors to be Jones and Fletcher, in the back of a car, holding up three guns.