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Boys claim prank for black doll found hanging from noose at Queen Village Philadelphia playground

Two pre-teen boys — one black and one white — came forward and said they had put it there for a non-racial reason.

The community cente in Queen Village's Weccacoe playground will be demolished to make room for a memorial for a memorial to the formal African American burial ground that occupied the site in the 19th Century.
The community cente in Queen Village's Weccacoe playground will be demolished to make room for a memorial for a memorial to the formal African American burial ground that occupied the site in the 19th Century. Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

The furor that erupted Thursday when a black doll was found hanging from a wire with a noose around its neck in Queen Village quieted later in the day when two preteen boys — one black and one white — came forward and said they had put the doll there as a prank. There was nothing racial about their act, they said.

The Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church, said in an interview Thursday night that the boys admitted the act to NBC10 reporter Rosemary Connors and said they thought the doll was creepy and put it up to scare people.

Tyler said he spoke by phone with Mayor Kenney and Police Commissioner Richard Ross about the new information and "I think everybody is satisfied."

Kenney spokesman Mike Dunn said the incident was still under investigation and the police would have more to say on Friday.

Tyler said the boys' account corresponded with video surveillance that showed a group of boys playing with the doll.

The pastor said the boys did not know about the symbolism of the noose and the history of lynchings in America, and he hoped that this episode could serve as a "teaching moment."

A mother with her 3-year-old child discovered the doll Thursday morning at the Weccacoe Playground near Fourth and Catharine Streets and called the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, which investigates hate crimes. The commission told the mother to also call 911, which she did.

Part of the playground sits on top of an African American burial ground. That cemetery was established by Richard Allen, the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first independent black denomination in the United States.

Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron reported earlier this year about the historic burial ground at Weccacoe:

The [burial ground's]
Buckalew's findings fired up the city's civil rights activists, who saw the graveyard's treatment as yet another example of the way African American spaces have been rendered invisible, while alarming Queen Village residents, who feared that an important community center and playground would be unilaterally taken from them.
— discovery in 2008, by

>> READ MORE: City hears concerns about playground, cemetery

>> READ MORE: Bethel Burying Ground, a National Historic Site, faces neglect, damage

A meeting hall long sat on top of the cemetery. The Queen Village Neighbors Association voted in May to shutter the hall, clearing the way for its demolition so a memorial to the burial ground could be built.

Tyler said the memorial should teach children about the nation's fraught racial history.

The pastor said he spoke with Kenney on Thursday night and "the mayor, like all of us, was relieved that this was not a malicious act."

Before news spread about the boys and the doll, Kenney said earlier in the day that he was "sickened" by the incident.

"It is particularly disgraceful to make a sacrilege out of a sacred burial ground," the mayor had said in a statement. "The city will do everything in its power to bring the people responsible to justice for this disgusting act."

Kenney added, "Although the investigation is still underway, I want to immediately condemn this despicable act."

Early in the day, Police Commissioner Ross had said the incident was "absolutely" a hate crime. "And we are going to deal with it."

Also early in the day, Rue Landau, the Human Relations Commission's executive director, had called the doll hanging a "heinous hate crime targeting the African American community."

Tyler said the boys, after finding the doll, were on the roof of a neighboring building looking for tennis balls when they found the noose under some leaves. Who left a noose on the roof was unknown, Tyler said.

The boys then attached the doll with the noose to a wire extending from the roof to a telephone pole and pushed the doll out of reach.

Staff writer Robert Moran contributed to this article.

Archaeologist Doug Mooney helped undertake an exploratory dig at the Bethel Burying Ground in 2013.