A 14-year-old boy is charged with murder in the death of a Philadelphia parks and recreation worker, officials announced Monday.
The teen is also charged with related offenses in the killing of Tiffany Fletcher, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said in a press conference in which family and officials paid tribute to the 41-year-old mother of three.
“She was a wonderful girl. She loved everybody. She gave you the shirt off her back, she gave you the food off her table,” one of Fletcher’s nieces said. “I just want peace for my aunt. I want justice for her children. They deserve their mom.”
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Geraldine Fletcher, the victim's mother, last week tearfully told NBC10 that she has now lost two children to gun violence.
The teen accused of killing Fletcher is charged as an adult, but the case may end up back in juvenile court, depending on what a judge rules, District Attorney Larry Krasner said.
Fletcher was caught in the crossfire at the Mill Creek Playground when the teen began shooting at a group returning fire on Friday, Philadelphia Police Department Chief Inspector Frank Vanore said. Surveillance video showed what appeared three people in the direction the teen was firing, Vanore said, adding that it wasn’t clear if all three were shooting back. Investigators found 12 bullet casings at the scene.
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Police officers were in the area and heard the shots when the gunfire broke out. As people ran, they pointed to the suspect, who was running away, Outlaw said. One officer chased after and managed to arrest the boy, while other officers found Fletcher, who had run into a store for help.
“At first you know, I thought she was just getting away from hearing [gunshots], you know how people scatter,” witness Terry Allice told NBC10, “but after we got everything shut and saw her laying down, I asked her if she was OK, and she lifted up her hands. I saw the blood, so I ran, grabbed the towels, and packed the wounds.”
Officers rushed Fletcher to a hospital, where she died hours later. Later, a detective found a black 9 mm ghost gun in a trash can with one round in chamber and one round in magazine, Outlaw said.
Four other workers were present when the gunfire erupted outside the rec center, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell said.
“Our playgrounds, our parks, our rec centers should be safe and sacred places in our communities,” Ott Lovell said. “Parks and rec staff members like Tiffany Fletcher are civic heroes who wake up each day committed to providing young people with a safe haven from the violence impacting their communities far too often.”
Fletcher only began working at the rec center this spring, heeding the call for more staffers needed to open pools during the summer, Ott Lovell said. She worked as a pool maintenance attendant and agreed to stay beyond the summer to work at the rec center located less than two blocks from where she and her family lived.
Mayor Jim Kenney said that “something’s wrong” when kids as young as 14 are able to access guns. He blamed state gun laws and highlighted the fact that Philadelphia is suing Pennsylvania in an effort to enforce stricter gun laws.
Due to Pennsylvania’s preemption law, Philadelphia is legally barred from enacting gun control measures that would impose stronger restrictions or penalties on residents than what state law enforces.
The city has unsuccessfully challenged the preemption law in court. Nonetheless, city officials say they see signs that future lawsuits could be successful. Kenney noted that the city’s lawsuit is an effort to more strictly regulate guns within its own borders, not elsewhere in the state.
Officials urged people to continue to come forward as the investigation into Fletcher’s death continues. They reminded the public of the new $10,000 reward offered for tips that lead to the arrest and conviction of anyone who fires a gun and wounds others near schools, recreation centers and libraries.
There are additional resources for people or communities that have endured gun violence in Philadelphia. Further information can be found here.