Marquisha Wilson-Thompson, 18, thought she was showing up for a "simple fight" - meaning no weapons - a month ago outside Lucky's corner store in Upper Darby.
Wilson-Thompson had been challenged to fight by a girl who accused her of insulting her and a few friends. The fight escalated, resulting in property damage in the store and bruises for the other girl. Wilson-Thompson fled.
Yesterday, sitting in the front pew of the sanctuary at the True Gospel Tabernacle church in Southwest Philadelphia, Wilson-Thompson said she was ready to face her arrest warrant for assault.
She was among the first fugitives to take advantage of Philadelphia Peaceful Surrender, which began yesterday. The program offers people with outstanding warrants a chance to surrender at any of five designated churches and mosques around the city.
"People feel safe. They understand the church to be a sanctuary," said the Rev. Ernest McNear of True Gospel. McNear heads the program with the support of Mayor Nutter's office, the city's criminal justice system, and other clergy around the city.
Through the program, staff and clergy at designated sites guide fugitives through the surrender process, connect them with social services, and sometimes accompany them to the Criminal Justice Center.
The other sites are Bible Way Baptist Church in West Philadelphia; Greater Exodus Baptist Church in North Philadelphia; Mount Airy Church of God and Christ; and Mosque No. 12, also in North Philadelphia. McNear said they plan to designate more sites throughout the summer.
By noon yesterday, about 20 people had turned themselves in, McNear said. True Gospel staff members, who run the surrender program through the affiliated Kingdom Care Reentry Network, hope to work with as many as 10,000 fugitives.
A similar program hosted in September by U.S. marshals at True Gospel yielded almost 1,300 fugitives representing about 2,000 outstanding warrants, said Everett Gillison, Philadelphia deputy mayor of public safety.
"People said they felt safe surrendering at a church rather than using the normal way of surrendering at a courtroom," Gillison said.
About 65 percent of those who surrendered in September were wanted on probation, parole-violation, or other misdemeanor charges. The goal, Gillison said, is to leave police free to pursue fugitives wanted on major felony charges.
The situation also offers relief to fugitives, who no longer have to worry about police kicking down their doors at 4 a.m., said Greg Thompson, program manager of the Kingdom Care Reentry Network.
"They're treated with a sense of humanity," Thompson said.
Thompson-Wilson went to True Gospel with her father, Larry Thompson, 38, a veteran of the city's prison system who served 13 years on a third-degree murder and aggravated-assault charge.
"I just want to make sure my daughter receives the best legal advice she can," said Thompson, who heard about the program from his mother. "I don't want her to experience the same things I did."
At True Gospel yesterday, Wilson-Thompson said she was connected with legal representation, anger-management counseling resources, and career counseling. Holding a résumé that True Gospel staff helped her compile, she said she hoped to pursue nursing once her legal troubles are cleared up.
Wilson-Thompson said she planned to go with her father today to turn herself in to Upper Darby police.
"I can't feel anything right now," she said. "I let my actions get the best of me."
Philadelphia Peaceful Surrender will run through Labor Day, when organizers will decide whether to continue it.
Those who want to surrender can call True Gospel at 215-334-3343, Ext. 23, or visit one of the fives sites on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.