Friend of Havertown shooting victim: 'He had bigger goals'

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Haverford Township Police say the man seen in this photo is suspected of shooting and killing 29-year-old John Le, of Narberth, on July 29, 2017.

As three communities grappled with the aftermath of a seemingly random shooting in Havertown Saturday, a fuller picture of the 29-year-old victim came into view Monday.

John Le, a graduate of Lower Merion High School and Temple University, had a love of disc golf and tennis. On the day he was killed, in a shooting police say had no apparent motive, he played a round of disc golf at a course in Fairmount Park.

Hours before he was killed, Le had been talking about a proposal he recently sent to Adidas developing a shoe specifically for the sport, said his friend, Eryck Devan.

“That was Saturday,” Devan said. “He just said, ‘I’m really hoping I hear back from them.’ I could tell he had bigger goals.”

Haverford Township Police Chief John Viola said Monday afternoon that the department had received a “considerable amount” of tips since police on Saturday released a photo of the suspect, described as an African American man and last seen wearing a red hoodie, a white T-shirt, and blue jeans.

“A lot of people are calling. A lot of them think they know who the person is,” Viola said. “Every tip is important to us and we’re running down every lead we get.”

“There’s nothing concrete leading us to a particular person,” he added. “We’re not close to an arrest yet.”

Officials are offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction.

Le, who lived in Narbeth with his parents, was gunned down shortly after 6 p.m. outside an apartment building on the 2300 block of Haverford Road. Police say he was walking from a pizza shop to his friend’s apartment when he encountered the gunman. The same suspect is believed to have unloaded a barrage of shots less than an hour earlier in Overbrook, though no one was injured there.

Le had been scheduled to play in a tennis match nearby but it was postponed due to the weather, the police said. Before he could get into his friend’s apartment the shooter unloaded several rounds, hitting Le in the torso. Police who responded found Le lying in the doorway of the building, with his friend trying to administer first aid, according to Police Chief John Viola.

At the Le household in Narberth, a gray fieldstone house with lights strung along the gutters and a miniature crucifix affixed atop the door, an older man who came to the door Monday declined to comment. Minutes later the door reopened and a woman posted a sign that read: “No press. We appreciate you respecting our privacy.”

Around noon, a young woman arrived at the house with bags and boxes of food. She was greeted at the door with hugs before entering. Other friends and family arrived as the day continued.

The shooting stunned residents in Narberth and Haverford, both known as relatively quiet and safe areas. There were no homicides in either community in 2015 or 2016, according to the state’s uniform crime reporting system.

Nick Millas, who owns Original Eagle Pizza, which Le had visited just before the shooting, said his son texted him Saturday night to let him know that a customer had been shot and killed after leaving the shop.

Millas was shocked to hear of a shooting in the area, let alone one that left a young man dead.

“You don’t hear about it in Havertown,” said Millas, who could not recall a shooting there in his 10 years owning the business. He said the employees who encountered Le Saturday said he did not appear nervous or on edge.

“He was normal,” Millas said. “No sign of anything.”

“It’s a shame,” he added. “I hope they find this guy.”

Tim Hayburn, 40, lives a few blocks from the apartment complex where Le was shot. On Saturday night, he heard noises he thought could have been gunshots, a sound familiar to him having previously lived in the city.

He only later found out he was right. He said the news was shocking but didn’t leave him feeling unsafe.

“It’s one random event,” Hayburn said. “It didn’t really seem to be something that’s going to be happening consistently.”

Huozhen Zheng said she was working Saturday night at Pak Yue, a Chinese restaurant next door to Original Eagle Pizza. Zheng saw the commotion of police activity down the street. When she found out what happened, she was in disbelief.

Zheng said she often walks the short distance from Pak Yue to her home in Ardmore at 10 or 11 p.m. and has never felt unsafe. She said she didn’t think that would change.

“I don’t think so,” she said. “It’s still a safe place here.”

Lauren Hudson, who for five years has lived with her husband and children on the same Narberth street as Le’s family, learned of his death from a reporter. “That sort of thing doesn’t happen around here,” Hudson said.

Alexandra Weaver, 38, lives around the corner from the Le family. “I’m horrified,” Weaver said as she walked with her daughter Monday morning. “It’s extremely sad.”

Police were continuing to search Monday for the man who is believed to have pulled the trigger. Authorities released photos of the suspect Saturday, which Viola said led to a tip that someone had reported seeing that man firing shots on 77th Street, in the city’s Overbrook Park section, about 45 minutes before the Havertown shooting.

On Sunday night, Viola and Philadelphia Police spokesman Eric Gripp both confirmed that the same man is wanted in both shootings.

No one was injured in the episode in Philadelphia. Lt. John Walker of Southwest Detectives said the gunman had been acting suspiciously on the block, as if scoping out houses. When two people drove up to try to confront him, Walker said, the man fired at them 17 times, striking their vehicle but not hitting them. He then got into a gray Volvo sedan and drove away, Walker said.

In the neighborhood, which sits in the corner of West Philadelphia hemmed in by a golf course on one side and end of City Avenue on another, reactions to the violence ranged from shock to shrugs Monday.

While Overbrook Park is relatively tidy by Philadelphia standards, it has seen its share of gun violence in recent years, including the fatal shootings of two teenage brothers in their Westbury Drive home in 2012, the robbery and near-fatal shooting of a bakery owner in her Haverford Avenue shop in 2015 and the non-fatal shootings of men on Woodcrest Avenue on June 30 and Ruskin Road on July 17.

“When we first moved here there was no violence, no shooting,” said Tanaya Foster, 20, as she walked her dog not far from the shooting scene. “You barely see people outside. When  you do, people are walking their dogs, they speak to you. Everybody knows everybody. So this shooting was like, ‘What do you mean there was a shooting?” It’s sad because this is a family neighborhood.”

Fatal Shooting in Havertown

Police from Haverford Township and Philadelphia are looking for a man suspected of fatally shooting a 29-year-old man in Havertown on Saturday in what appears to be a random attack. The suspect was also seen 45 minutes earlier firing shots on 77th Street in Philadelphia’s Overbrook Park section.
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Reporters Mensah M. Dean and Chris Palmer contributed to this article.