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Chester teen's dreams gone in a flash

By the time his eighth grade formal dance had rolled around Friday, Zenas Powell's outfit would just no longer work.

A photo of Zenas Powell from his Facebook page.
A photo of Zenas Powell from his Facebook page.Read more

By the time his eighth grade formal dance had rolled around Friday, Zenas Powell's outfit would just no longer work.

His bow tie? Not spiffy enough. The jacket? Could be better. After all, this was one of the last events of the year at Chester Community Charter School.

Powell needed to look good.

"I'm a bachelor, Mom," the 14-year-old playfully told his mother, Stephanie, that morning.

So on Friday, his dad took him shopping. The boy bought a new jacket, shoes, and bow tie.

He wore them just once.

A night later, he walked into a corner store on Chester's west side to buy a candy bar. He walked out into a hail of gunfire.

A stray bullet caught Powell, apparently an innocent bystander. He died Saturday night at Crozer-Chester Medical Center.

One of the boys he was with, his 16-year-old cousin Quamar Powell, was also hit by a stray bullet and remained hospitalized in stable condition Monday. A third person, a woman, was treated for a gunshot wound.

Police have made no arrests.

On Monday afternoon, Powell's parents sat on the stoop of their rowhouse as neighbors and family stopped by to grieve, and police arrived to collect more information.

Less than a mile away, near the corner store, residents were less stunned. Powell's death was the 10th homicide in Chester this year, and the 64th since the start of 2014.

Investigators and neighbors say the block where the teen died is a center of drug activity and persistent loitering in Delaware County's most dangerous municipality. They say murder is nothing new on the 1100 block of Pine Lane.

"You see that tree over there? You see that spot down the road?" said Dale Smith, a 56-year-old resident. "People got killed there."

On Monday, the block was quiet, the corner store was open, and neighbors walked along the street. A toddler inched along on a tricycle. Police tape and police activity were noticeably absent.

Chester Police Chief James Nolan said his department is working with the Delaware County District Attorney's Office on the case, and police will step up their presence on the block.

Nolan couldn't recall how many shootings have occurred in that stretch of Pine Lane, but did not dispute that it was more than a few.

"Good lord, yeah," he said. "Lots of them."

Curbing gun violence has been a priority for Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland since he took office in January. Yet the homicide rate isn't slowing. At this time last year, nine homicides had been reported. Two years ago, the city had logged 14 by the end of May.

In an effort to close more homicide cases, the mayor's office has offered a $5,000 reward for information in most cases.

In Powell's case, the founders of CSMI, the management company for Chester Community Charter School, have added another $5,000 for any information. The founders, Vahan and Danielle Gureghian, have also offered to pay for Powell's funeral expenses.

Powell was a good student, his siblings said. He loved to ride bikes and had a fascination with motorcycles. His best friends were his brothers and cousins, and he stayed out of trouble.

Every time he left his grandmother, she said, he always told her, "I love you."

Powell was 11 days from his eighth-grade graduation when he was killed. His mother said her son was excited about his future.

"He came home the other day and said, 'Mom, I'm going to be a surgeon," Stephanie Powell recalled. "And I said, 'OK.' He loved to help people. He wanted to help people."

His parents were taking steps to encourage that. The first: getting him away from their dangerous city.

They had started the enrollment process to send him to a high school this fall 100 miles away, in Hershey, Pa.

"I didn't want him in the Chester school system, I wanted him out of Chester," said his father, Robert Nichols.

Now they are planning his funeral.

"I could never be prepared for anything like this," Nichols said, wiping away tears. "I'm still not ready for this. But I'm dealing with it."