Dozens of people from Southwest Philadelphia’s West African community gathered Sunday night at Finnegan Playground to dance, grill, and eat while celebrating recent graduates of area high schools.
But by Monday morning, many of them were together again in a rowhouse near the playground mourning Isiaka Meite, 24, who was killed during a mass shooting that erupted in the middle of the celebration.
“I don’t think the bullet was meant for him. He happened to be there at the wrong time,” said his sister, Naminata, 21, as women in African garb softly wept in the living room of her family’s home. “We were having a celebration for people that graduated. We do that once a year.”
Her mother was seated next to her on the couch. Naminata Meite consoled her and spoke for her because the Ivory Coast native does not speak English.
“We obviously are not doing well, but we believe in God, so we will be fine,” she said.
The mass shooting — which killed Meite and injured five others, including four teens — put a grim punctuation mark on a bloody Father’s Day weekend in Philadelphia. Police said that on Saturday and Sunday, 28 people were shot — five fatally — in 19 incidents across the city. It was the highest number of shooting victims recorded in a 48-hour stretch in the city since at least the beginning of 2015, police statistics show.
In total, more than 550 people have been shot in Philadelphia this year, according to police statistics — an average of more than three per day.
[Reading on mobile and not seeing the map above? Click here to view the full version.]
The city’s homicide total — which includes shootings, stabbings, and killing by other means — was 13 percent higher through Sunday than at the same point last year, statistics show. This year, 152 people have been slain in the city, the highest total through a June 16 since 2012.
Police Commissioner Richard Ross said at a news conference Monday that the department would evaluate its deployment strategies, and likely would modify where it focuses patrol efforts to try to prevent shootings.
Theadore Harris, 24, who lives near the scene of Sunday night’s mass shooting, said another man had been fatally shot on nearby Dorel Street the previous Sunday.
>> EDITORIAL: The city’s bloody Father’s Day demands action
“This is tragic,” Harris said. “People should be able to enjoy the weather and their celebrations without worrying about bullets flying.”
His friend Terrance Johnson, 38, a school bus driver, said: “I’m about to pack up and leave from up here, for real. Two killings in one week and we’re not a month into the summer.”
The shooting at Finnegan Playground, 6801 Grovers Ave., happened at 10:08 p.m., police said. Police said a “suspect shot indiscriminately into the crowd,” striking six people, including Meite, of the 6700 block of Dorel. He was hit once in the back and taken to Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 10:43 p.m.
Authorities did not identify the other victims, but said they included another 24-year-old man and four teens, ages 15 and 16. All were reported in stable condition.
Homicide Capt. Jason Smith said at the news conference that investigators believe three men were involved in the shooting, one of whom pulled the trigger. He said no one had been arrested, and provided no identifying information about potential suspects.
“The motive for this incident is really unclear at this point,” Smith said, adding that police were investigating the possibility that it was somehow related to the shooting on Dorel a week earlier.
One barbecue attendee, an 18-year-old who asked not to be identified because the gunman remained at large, returned to the park Monday morning and said the shooting “came out of nowhere.”
The teen’s mother said that when she heard the shots, she wanted to run.
“But my children and grandchildren were here,” she said. “I tried to run, but I had children here, so I could not run.”
She said her teenage niece was shot in the leg and required surgery.
Many people at the celebration were immigrants from West African countries including Mali, the Ivory Coast, and Guinea-Bissau, attendees said, and were honoring recent graduates of high schools including Boys Latin, Charter High School for Architecture and Design, Penn Wood, Upper Darby, and West Catholic.
“It was a lot of us throwing the party from our country,” the woman said. “The children were dancing there, we were cooking, and all we heard was pop, pop, pop.”
Naminata Meite said her brother was a loving person who had many friends. He recently had worked busing tables at a restaurant, the name of which she said she could not remember.
Meite said she had been at the park but left before the shooting. A relative called her to say somebody got shot, so she returned and learned that the victims included her brother, who by that point had been taken to the hospital.
“This is the first time having someone close to me getting shot, so it’s hard, but I’ll get through,” said the sister, who attends Community College of Philadelphia.
Earlier this month, Ross described the proportion of homicides being committed with guns as “alarming.” On Monday, he also questioned whether gunmen were increasingly carrying illegal firearms because they believed they could avoid being held accountable, although he did not cast blame on anyone in the justice system.
At the site of another Sunday shooting, the Charles J. Ziehler Playground at 200 E. Olney Ave. in Olney, no sign of the violence could be found 24 hours later. But as Kierstin Williams sat on a bench watching her 8-year-old son and 10-year-old sister playing with other children, she said she was not surprised by the violence in the city.
“These kids need something constructive to do,” said Williams, 28, who works for the city’s Public Health Department. “They need more after-school programs. They are closing down schools and recreation centers for these kids, and they end up in the streets.”
As if underscoring her point, the only water in the Ziehler swimming pool came from raindrops that started to fall as she spoke.
The Rev. Paul “Earthquake” Moore, a former boxer and now a community activist, came to Finnegan on Monday and lamented that a joyous gathering could be interrupted by violence.
“You have this beautiful playground, it’s a graduation and Father’s Day party, and this happens,” Moore said.
By 1 p.m. Monday in Southwest Philadelphia, the people who threw the party and survived the gunfire had cleaned up the grassy area adjacent to the baseball field where the shootings took place. One woman, who asked not to be identified because the suspects were not arrested, said she hoped whoever was responsible would be discovered soon.