Man Faces Murder Charges After Intervening in Couple's Fight on Outskirts of Drexel's Campus

Joseph Howanski is accused of gunning down Merlos Mukaj on a street that runs along Drexel University's campus

A Drexel University graduate is accused of murdering a current student's boyfriend after he interrupted the couple's fight on the outskirts of the university's campus late Tuesday night.

Joseph Howanski, 24, is jailed on murder, reckless endangerment, and weapon charges after police say he shot 21-year-old Merlos Mukaj along the 3500 block of Lancaster Avenue late Tuesday night.

Mukaj and his girlfriend, a 22-year-old Drexel student from Chester County, got into a heated argument around 11:40 p.m. Tuesday when Howanski allegedly intervened, authorities said.

"They definitely didn’t know each other," said Lt. John Walker, of Philadelphia Police's Southwest Detectives division. "It just appears to be an argument between the male and the female and, it looks like, he intervenes in that argument and for some reason pulls his gun and fires it three time."

Mukaj was pronounced dead at a short time later at the Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, police said. He used to attend Rowan College at Gloucester County community in New Jersey. RCGC's president, Frederick Keating, sent his "sympathy and prayers" to Mukaj's loved ones in a brief statement shared with NBC10.

Howanski, a graduate of Drexel’s LeBow College of Business, lives on nearby Hamilton Street. He was arrested on the scene and later charged. He remained jailed without bail Thursday. Court records do not indicate whether he has retained legal counsel.

Drexel Murder Joseph Howanski
NBC10 / Philadelphia Police
Drexel grad Joseph Howanski is accused of gunning down Merlos Mukaj as he fought with his girlfriend, a Drexel student, on the outskirts of Drexel's campus on Nov. 28.

In a letter sent to students Wednesday afternoon, Drexel President John Fry said the university didn't send out a DrexelAlert at the time of the shooting since police detained the alleged shooter. "There was no immediate or ongoing threat," Fry wrote.

"I am deeply saddened by this incident," Fry said. "But I want to reassure everyone that safety is always our top priority. We take many steps to ensure our campus remains safe."

Drexel said it would reach out to the members of its community impacted. The campus Counseling Center, 215-895-1415, and the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life are available for any students needing assistance, Fry said.

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