The story didn't ring a bell. It happened 19 years and several thousand murders ago.
"His name was Carnell Crosby," the woman on the phone said. He was 23 at the time, gunned down while running for his life a block from his home on Mulberry Street in Frankford. He'd argued with his roommate over a leather couch. He was about to become a father.
His death made Page B8 on a Sunday. Apparently, I'd talked to police, gone out to the neighborhood, found someone at the hospital. A woman who knew the family told me she feared for her own children, given what was happening on her street.
"The young ones," she had said, "they are taking over, pretty much."
In 2008, we can take the qualifier out of that statement.
The woman who called last week was Michelle Wilkerson. Her sister, Jermaine, had been Crosby's girlfriend. They'd been going together for two years, and she was three months pregnant when he died.
And now their child, Carnell Crosby Jr., is dead, too, at age 18.
He was gunned down in broad daylight, like his father. It happened two blocks from his home. Only this killing didn't make the newspapers.
Living with death
Jermaine Wilkerson doesn't live on Mulberry Street anymore. She moved into her sister's apartment toward the end of this summer, several weeks after her son's murder. The old place felt haunted - she'd hear doors shut about the time her son used to come and go. The neighborhood felt foreign.
"So many people moved in from different parts of the city. You don't know who's who any more. You hear more gunshots at night. You even hear helicopters."
July 18 was a Friday. Jermaine, who is 39, had the day off from Abington Memorial Hospital, where she's a psychiatric worker. Her oldest, Carnell, got up around 10:30 a.m. and walked to the corner in a T-shirt and shorts - no shoes. "He was coming back," she said.
Carnell, baby-faced and nearly 6 feet tall, met up with friends and hung on one corner of Tackawanna Street and Fillmore, then another, as they waited for the China House to open at noon.
The police radio call came at 11:59 a.m. Carnell had been sitting on a porch when gunmen came from two directions.
The guy next to him tried to pull him to safety. But "Carnell just froze," she said. Bullets pierced his wrist and knee and lodged in his stomach. Doctors at Frankford Hospital could not revive him.
His mother does not know why he died. He faced a preliminary hearing for possession of a small amount of crack. His mother said it belonged to friends. "He tried to fit in," she said.
Eyes open, mouth shut
A dozen people could have witnessed what happened that day. Many of them went to his funeral. No one is cooperating with police, said Sgt. Tim Cooney of Homicide.
"You're talking noontime, bright sunny day, lot of people out, he's with five or six of his friends," he said. "Unfortunately, none of them are willing to or able to come forward and really help us."
This sickens his mother. "I won't even call these people his friends," she said. "People have got to talk."
Two weeks after Carnell died, she worked up the courage to look through his things. In a shoe box she found an essay he'd written for the Gateway program, which helps dropouts prepare for Community College of Philadelphia.
"I always felt embarrassed or not smart enough in school," he wrote, "and I wouldn't ask for help when I didn't understand my school work so I ran from it, not knowing I was only hurting myself in the long run. . . . This program can help me a lot in life. Actually, it could probably save my life."
She sat on his bed and sobbed.
"I knew I couldn't put Carnell in my pocket. I had to let him be a young man. I'd tell him, 'You love the streets, but the streets don't love you.' "