POLICE ARE crediting a vigilant gun owner with saving the life of an Upper Darby cop Friday after he saw the officer being attacked and surrounded by a large group of teens.
"There were 40 kids. If it wasn't for the good Samaritan stepping forward, he'd have been dead meat," Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said. "There's no doubt they would have attacked him."
About 3 p.m. every weekday, from six to eight township police officers patrol the area near Upper Darby High School as nearly 4,000 kids pour out of the building on Lansdowne Avenue near School Lane.
Most kids and most days are good, Chitwood said.
Friday was not.
That afternoon alone, police responded to three fights in three locations near the school. When the dust settled, eight teens, ages 13 to 17, were charged with crimes, and two officers were injured so severely that it's unclear when they'll be able to return to work, Chitwood said.
The most egregious of the incidents took place on Wayne Avenue near Marshall Road, less than a mile from the high school.
An officer who broke up a fight between two teen boys that had attracted a large crowd at that location was holding one of the combatants at bay when the teen's opponent attacked the officer, Chitwood said.
"As he breaks up the fight, he takes one kid and then the other jumps [on] him. Now he's fighting two of them and he's calling for an assist officer at the same time," Chitwood said. "There's a crowd of 40 or 50 kids watching the fight, and they all move in towards the officer."
That's when the good Samaritan, who lives on the block, came out of his house with a gun in his hand and told the teens to get away from the cop, Chitwood said.
"He had the gun in his hand, but he didn't point it at the kids, he just told them to back off," Chitwood said. "If this guy didn't come out and come to the aid of the officer, this officer would have had significant problems."
The 35-year-old gun owner, who has a concealed-carry permit, kept the group of teens at bay until responding officers arrived, Chitwood said.
Not only did the officer who tried to break up the fight suffer significant hand injuries, Chitwood said, but an officer who responded to the request for backup also suffered a major injury to a leg when he was kicked by one of the teens in the fight.
The two juveniles in that fight each were charged with aggravated assault on police, riot, harassment, and related offenses. They were remanded to the Delaware County juvenile detention facility in Lima, Chitwood said.
Six more youths were arrested for fighting around the same time that day at two other locations near the school, Chitwood said; one was sent to the juvenile detention facility and the other five were released to a parent or guardian. Six of the eight arrested students attend Upper Darby High. The seventh attends Beverly Hills Middle School; the eighth goes to a school in Ridley Township.
"There's thousands of kids that walk to and from that school without a problem, but every once in a while you get these wannabe gangsters, and if they want to be gangsters, we'll treat them like gangsters," Chitwood said.
Since Friday, police said, after-school patrols around Upper Darby High have been doubled.
"Our goal is to make sure these kids get home safe," Chitwood said. "I can't emphasize it enough, but the majority of these kids are decent kids."