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Phila.’s grim milestone: 100th homicide

Ahead of such giant cities as New York and Los Angeles, Philadelphia marked its 100th homicide of 2007 yesterday not with a terrifying gun battle, but with the discovery of a body in West Philadelphia.

Ahead of such giant cities as New York and Los Angeles, Philadelphia marked its 100th homicide of 2007 yesterday not with a terrifying gun battle, but with the discovery of a body in West Philadelphia.

It was a stark contrast to the angry, cop-hating crowd that gathered after the 99th killing hours before - a scene of threats to witnesses that left one police veteran despairing that the city could ever solve its record-breaking surge of violence.

The city's murder rate is more than 20 percent ahead of last year's; the 100th victim of 2006 was killed on April 14.

As of last week, New York - with a population six times Philadelphia's - had counted 84 homicides this year. Los Angeles, more than twice the size of this city, had 80 killings as of Friday.

Through a spokesman, Mayor Street called the killings here "deplorable."

"The city is going to fight every day, but we also need the community involved," spokesman Joseph Grace said. "We need the people in town watch, to be block captains, and to volunteer for curfew centers."

Shortly before dawn, police responded to a report of a man slumped at 49th and Aspen Streets in the Mill Creek section of West Philadelphia.

There they found Dwayne Greene, 37, with gunshot wounds to the chest and stomach. The 100th homicide victim, who lived in the city's Mantua section, was pronounced dead at 5:44 a.m. at Temple University Hospital. Police said they knew of no motive and had no suspects.

Hours after Greene's death, the mayor spoke at an 8 a.m. stop-the-violence rally at First Baptist Church of Paschall in Southwest Philadelphia.

A half-hour later, 150 people gathered at a prayer breakfast at Our Lady of Hope Church in North Philadelphia. The interdenominational service, "Prayer for a Safer City," featured remarks by a rabbi, an imam and a minister.

Among those who attended was Evelyn Gutierrez, 48, who said she prayed for "peace, justice and the opportunity to make the community safer" - and for her 79-year-old father, Dario Gutierrez, who was bludgeoned to death in his Fairhill home in January.

But the gentle folk with bowed heads may be no match for the culture of violence that thrives on some city streets. On Friday night, a hostile crowd of about 75 swarmed outside Temple University Medical Center after the city's 99th killing.

Fourteen-year-old Taron George was dead, the victim of an apparently calculated drive-by shooting at 10:20 p.m. at Somerset and Ringgold Streets.

Temple doctors had cut open the chest of George's 21-year-old companion, whom police have not identified, and were massaging his heart when his younger brother began to tell police what happened.

The boy's mother cut him off and loudly warned her son " 'not to say a f-ing word,' " according to an officer who was at the scene.

" 'Don't talk to the f-ing cops,' " the officer quoted the woman as saying. " 'We handle this our own way.' "

"I couldn't believe it," said the officer, who asked not to be identified.

Moments later, four young men ran up to the victim's brother and told him to "say nothing to the cops."

The scene quickly grew even more surreal.

The mother of a third shooting victim arrived and told police: "I know who did it, and he's in this crowd."

As the woman looked around for the gunman, the crowd berated her and told her to keep silent, the officer said. "People were telling her to be quiet and saying, 'We'll get you, bitch.' "

Police called for reinforcements.

"How are we supposed to end this when we're up against these kinds of societal values?" asked the officer.

"It's discouraging and an absolute disgrace," said Homicide Sgt. Anthony McFadden.

Hours later, at the North Philadelphia prayer breakfast, scores of people offered prayers and wondered how to "get our young people to drop their guns," said City Councilman Juan F. Ramos, a sponsor of the event.

Among those attending was Police Capt. Daniel Castro, who said it was "sad" that the city had reached the dubious milestone of 100 killings so early in the year. He said police needed to be vigilant.

"We need to be out there as a visible presence to stem the violence," Castro said. "We have to be strong for the community."