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A cop is slain between two churches, but there are no answers

Philadelphia Police Officer Robert F. Wilson III, gunned down at a North Philly video-game store, was remembered at a Mass a few blocks away.

WHEN CHURCH was over yesterday afternoon in North Philly, Jomo Brown walked over to a Lehigh Avenue shopping center and entered a Rite Aid, not really knowing what he was looking for or how it would help heal his pain.

Brown, 45, looked over the shelves in Aisle 3, at the plastic Easter eggs and stuffed bunnies. He grabbed a red teddy bear, likely a leftover from Valentine's Day. He bought the $9 bear, which held a heart that said "I Love You," and the cashier put it in a black plastic bag.

Brown took the bear outside, bent down and placed it amid a makeshift memorial of candles and flowers outside the GameStop store where Philadelphia Police Officer Robert F. Wilson III was fatally shot during a robbery Thursday afternoon.

Then Brown just stood there and looked down at the bear and it only made him feel powerless. He started to cry.

"This is it? This is the only way we make this situation better?" he asked, motioning to the memorial with one hand and wiping the tears from his face with another. "I'm just disgusted. We're fighting a losing battle out here."

Brown had just spent nearly three hours in the cavernous Deliverance Evangelistic Church for Sunday worship, where the Rev. Glen Spaulding had told thousands of congregants to pray for Wilson, who often stopped in to visit or have lunch while on his patrols in the 22nd District. As church was ending, Spaulding stood at the pulpit, right where Connie Mack Stadium's home plate used to be, and thundered up to the cheap seats.

"Throw up your hands and shout amen!" Spaulding roared.

Brown, who grew up near 27th Street and Lehigh Avenue, said he hadn't found the answers in church.

"I love my God. I love my people, and I love my country," he said. "But this isn't going to be the last time this happens. We haven't solved a thing."

The GameStop is between two churches, and earlier in the morning, at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church a few blocks west, about two dozen Philadelphia police officers sat in the back pew during a Mass in remembrance of Wilson. They held their police caps in their hands, some with pictures of loved ones inside. One officer who didn't have a photo in his cap said he would put Wilson's Mass card there after his funeral.

"Yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come," the Rev. Stephen D. Thorne told the parishioners.

At the end of Mass, Thorne asked everyone to turn back toward the officers and raise their hands, to pray for their safety. Some officers stood, and some, including Officer Samantha Brown, just stared into their caps and tried to hold back tears.

Actor David Morse, who lives in Chestnut Hill, said he had come to the church for the first time yesterday, just to pay respects to Wilson. Afterward, he posed for pictures with some of the officers.

"This doesn't happen nearly enough, and it should," Morse said of the public honor bestowed upon police.

Kanika Stewart, 43, said she mostly had thought of her son, Keith Jones III, and of Wilson's two boys during the service, and of the world in which they're growing up.

"He's only 4, and I'm trying to give him a sense of security and safety in life," she said. "I taught him morals and that when he sees a police officer, to shake his hand."

Outside the church, down streets that look less saintly, some said that respect for police is predicated on personal experience. And Wilson, they said, treated people fairly.

"Nobody deserves to die," said a man sitting with a pit bull on his porch at 24th and Somerset streets. Around the corner, on 25th Street near Silver, a man named Aubrey with a dollar sign tattooed on his cheekbone said that Wilson "was one of the good ones. He had family, too. It's terrible."

The men accused of gunning Wilson down, brothers Carlton Hipps, 29, and Ramone Williams, 24, lived together on Hollywood Street near Stiles in Brewerytown, about 2 miles away.

T. Milton Street, the former state senator and current mayoral candidate, showed up at St. Martin de Porres after Mass was over, believing that a rally or anti-violence protest was taking place there. He was angry that there wasn't one.

"Years ago, I blamed everything on white folks and that once we got black people in office, we could stop all this, but they're worthless," he said. "Black lives only matter when a white person kills them."

There was a small gathering outside the GameStop, and Street eventually found it. The store has been closed since Wilson was killed, and some banners were taped to the steel doors that covered the entrance. Some people milling around outside the store carried signs condemning the never-ending violence, and most everyone had known someone who'd been killed in Philly.

"The guy who murdered my brother got murdered, too," said Lacinda Jones of Cheltenham, a member of Philly Artists Against Violence.

John Paul Tucker, 7, wrote a note to Wilson with a purple crayon and taped it to the wall near the store.

"You did good, very good," Tucker wrote.

Jomo Brown's teddy bear sat facedown beneath the note, and every time someone knelt to fix it, the wind knocked it over again.