In many ways, Cobbs Creek is a normal Philadelphia community. Barbershops, beauty salons, a bodega, pizza shops and several Baptist Churches can be found alongside row homes with front porches and awnings that stand side by side in this West Philly neighborhood. Now the weight of what happened to a little girl here has interrupted day-to-day routines and conversations.
“Everybody knows everybody in this neighborhood,” said Willie Gardner, a longtime resident.
A little more than two weeks ago, a 5-year-old girl was abducted from William C. Bryant Elementary school, which lies in the heart of Cobbs Creek, located south of Market Street and above the Baltimore Avenue border of Southwest Philadelphia. She was found the next day, after enduring an "unspeakable experience," according to Capt. John Darby with the Special Victims Unit.
“People are working together and praying,” said Karen Braxton, owner of Mirakles Hair Salon. “The mothers and the fathers, just the whole community at large is coming together.”
People who are used to a handshake at the bus stop and a need to know their neighbors, feel like the abduction has strengthened bonds in an already tight-knit community.
“We’re sticking together on this,” said Sabu Wong, a barber at Boone’s barbershop. “We feel real bad about the situation as a community. We know the grandparents of the girl. It’s a sad situation.”
“Everybody’s going around, knocking on doors to try and figure out what’s going on,” said Allen Attaway, an employee at Nerue Car Wash.
Yet while residents insist that there is unity in the neighborhood, many on the outside wonder why no one has come forward with information leading to an arrest, in spite of an $85,000 reward. Is the "no-snitch" rule at play or is the distrust for police that strong?
“Ain't nobody worried about that,” said Gardner. “$85,000 is a lot of money! If I knew something I would say something, not only because of the money but because it’s the right thing to do.”
“If you know something you should say something regardless of the money,” said one man sitting inside a barbershop. “That’s a 5-year-old girl. We’ve got to protect the children.”
In addition to the growing sense of unity, other feelings have come to the surface among the people of Cobbs Creek. There is the expected fear and anger. And there is also a growing desire to find the answer to a specific question: Why would anyone want to abduct an innocent little girl?
“Everybody wants to know,” said Gardner. “Who would want to do something like that and what was the purpose? What did you get out of it? That little girl ain't got nothing to do with what grown people got going on. She’s innocent.”
Stephanie, a mother of three, is considering moving her children from Bryant Elementary in light of the abduction. The Philadelphia School District admitted that employees at the school failed to follow proper protocol when they allowed the abductor to walk in and take the girl.
“How are you going to just let someone go in there and take the girl out?” asked Attaway. “Security is not that tight in there.”
However, some residents claim the tight-knit nature of Cobbs Creek played a role in the security lapse.
“The community took security for granted,” said Wong. “Everybody knows each other, especially at the school, so they probably didn’t feel like security had to be as tight.”
For that reason, some neighbors have an issue with the school replacing their principal with a new one, insisting that he was nothing but a scapegoat.
“For them to bring in a new principal is ridiculous,” said Wong. “He did a lot. He walked the kids home from school. They must have gotten rid of him to make people be quiet or to make people think they’re really doing something. Changing the principal is not going to solve the problem though. The whole situation should be changed. But the school has upped security, they have people walking around. They’re working on having an ID card.”
“I liked him [the principal],” said Stephanie. “He walked the kids halfway home and stopped them from fighting.”
Neighbors we talked with say even though they don't know who the abductors are, they do believe the people responsible are known within the community.
“People have their own discrepancies about who did it, word of mouth,” said Gardner. “That’s just how people are. Evidently it was somebody that she knew because a child is never going to go with someone they don’t know. But whoever did it will come to light.”
“I’m thinking the little girl knew who the woman was,” said Wong. “The community itself is on high alert. I believe it was somebody that we know. That’s the mind-boggling thing about it.”