After officer's death, a family grieves
It was snowing - again - on Thursday when Shakira Wilson-Burroughs called her brother Robert. The two were planning a family trip to Florida to take their kids to Disney World. She wanted to finalize the arrangements, and her brother joked that no expense would be spared. Warm thoughts.
It was snowing - again - on Thursday when Shakira Wilson-Burroughs called her brother Robert.
The two were planning a family trip to Florida to take their kids to Disney World. She wanted to finalize the arrangements, and her brother joked that no expense would be spared. Warm thoughts.
Robert Wilson III, a police officer, had to hang up after 20 minutes. It was close to 2:30 p.m., time for him to head to work.
"I'll call you back after roll call," he said.
They never spoke again.
When Wilson-Burroughs heard on the news that a police officer had been shot in North Philadelphia, she did what she always did when she heard about a shooting in the 22d District. She waited a few minutes for her brother to text. Then she texted him, "Are you OK?"
When she didn't hear back, she said, "I had a feeling."
Before long, an officer called to say her brother had been shot. He had stopped at a video game store to do a routine safety check and buy a gift for his son. Two armed men burst inside, and, in the brief gun battle that followed, he was shot in the head.
"I just screamed out," she said.
'He loved his family'
Constance Wilson placed some Entenmann's on the kitchen table Saturday morning. She aligned rows of chairs in her small West Philadelphia rowhouse to accommodate the overflow of visitors who came to talk about her grandson.
Near the table, Police Department certificates for exemplary work and perfect attendance hung on the wall. Robert Wilson's graduation photo from the Police Academy hung above the TV in the living room.
"He loved his family," said Constance Wilson, who raised her grandson. "He loved his boys. There wasn't anything he wouldn't do for us."
The loss is immense. But the family was not surprised to learn that during Thursday's shooting at 22d and Lehigh, Wilson, 30, acted to protect others in the GameStop store.
Wilson-Burroughs is two years older than her brother, but she called him "Big Little Brother." Not for his height - he was 5-foot-9. No, it was how he defended those around him.
That is how the Wilsons will cope. "There's no protection in the store, and there are two guys shooting at you, that takes some nerve to stand there and try to hold those people off," Constance Wilson said. "But that was Robbie. He was going to do his job."
That trait, his sister said, comes from years of hardship. Brother and sister were close. They had to be. If they didn't talk every day, Wilson-Burroughs said, it was every other day. Text messages filled the void between calls.
"We've been through a lot," said Wilson-Burroughs, a certified medical assistant. "It brought me and him together. My bond with my brother - it's unfortunate - but it would have never come apart. He was my friend. It was more than us just being brothers and sisters."
She wiped away tears.
"With us losing our parents, he stepped in," she said. "He stepped in."
Their mother, Cheryl Trippett, was shot to death in a 1996 murder-suicide in Reading. Her companion, a 52-year-old retired psychiatrist, killed her because she planned to leave him, the Reading Eagle reported. The man then turned the gun on himself.
Their father, Robert Wilson Jr., died in 2004 of kidney failure. He worked as a security officer, and he was involved in his children's lives. Upon her brother's death, Wilson-Burroughs remembered one of her father's adages.
" 'If we get into a situation, we don't go down without a fight,' " she quoted him as saying. "Robbie wasn't going down without a fight. He wasn't. That's just him."
Wilson enjoyed his police work. He found a job in the city's Fleet Management division after graduating from West Philadelphia High in 2002, and, though cars were a passion, he wanted more.
One day, before he became an officer, he test drove a police cruiser he had repaired. He drove it around West Philadelphia, saw his grandmother, and flicked the lights and sirens. "Oh," she said, "it's just Robbie."
He joined the force in 2007. "He wanted to do more," his sister said. "Then, becoming a father, he wanted to make sure he could provide for his family. Being an officer is a secure position. It's stable."
A devoted father
Wilson's sons were his greatest joy, his sister said. He had two: Quahmier, 9, and Robert IV, 1. He took them to his grandmother's house, and she marveled at how well cared for and disciplined they were.
"He taught his kids what they needed," his grandmother said. "A good father. A young father."
Wilson was divorced from the mother of his oldest son. He lived alone in West Philadelphia but had been dating a woman, and there was talk of an engagement. But it never happened, his family said.
He was "Uncle Rob" to his sister's four kids. The two families often spent time together, sometimes at Wilson's house, and his sister could see how much he cared for her children. She understood why.
"Going back to us losing our parents, it's just to give that and make sure he's there for them so they wouldn't have to worry," she said. "It's all he wanted to do, so they wouldn't ever have to experience something like this."
Kristopher Allison, a longtime friend of Wilson's from the neighborhood, took a trip to Best Buy with him and Wilson's son Quahmier in November. Quahmier stared at a big-screen TV.
"Dad," he asked, "when are you going to get me a new game?"
"When your report card comes," Wilson told him.
Allison, 30, said Robert loved video games, too. The proof was in the many destroyed controllers after losses in Madden Football when they were young.
"He couldn't stand to lose," he said.
As they gather to remember Wilson, his friends and relatives are grieving in different ways.
Constance Wilson is a religious woman, a Jehovah's Witness, and she relies on those teachings for comfort.
Her husband, Robert Wilson Sr., said his grandson's death haunts him even more when he watches the demonstrations over police actions so common in recent months.
"To all those people carrying those signs for police brutality," he said. "I don't see anybody carrying a sign for my grandson."
Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey visited the house. Mayor Nutter called to express his condolences. Gov. Wolf reached out to pay his respects.
The Police Department set up a memorial fund for Wilson's children. The Sixers donned T-shirts honoring him at the warm-up before Saturday's game. Fellow police officers affixed black bands of mourning to their badges.
When Robert Wilson III is laid to rest, thousands will gather to mourn him.
But for the Wilson family, there will be no trip to Disney World.