WHEN COMMUNITY College of Philadelphia was locked down after a report of a gunman last month, you could almost feel the city hold its collective breath.
A day before the Oct. 6 lockdown, an online post threatened an attack at an area university. The day thankfully came and went without incident, but then we were wondering if our luck had run out.
The lockdown was lifted more than an hour later, with a student who reportedly pulled a gun on another student taken into police custody. No gun was found, but we all breathed a sigh of relief.
All except Tuesday Wells, 38, who says her son, Jamir Branch, 17, wasn't just treated as if he'd done something wrong after he said he was threatened with a gun, but now his safety and education are jeopardized. No charges were filed against the other student, and her son was indefinitely suspended from the college after a disciplinary hearing.
"They're not protecting him and then they suspend him for dishonesty and disorderly conduct . . . what does that even mean?" she asked. "He told the truth and this is how he's treated?"
When I talked to Branch, a student at Simon Gratz High School who's enrolled in a dual-enrollment program at the college, it was clear that what occurred that October morning was a result of a brewing neighborhood beef. In 2013, Branch said, he was jumped by the student and his brother after exiting a corner store. Branch insists he has no idea why. Over the years, he says, the two had a few more confrontations that escalated when the other student called him over inside a school building and flashed a gun.
Donavan McCargo, the college's dean of students, wouldn't discuss specifics about the incident or the students involved, but said the decision to suspend Branch for violating the student code of conduct was not made in haste. He said that once a committee made a decision, he and others reviewed it. He also said that Branch could appeal the decision.
"Now his high school is saying he may have to go to summer school if he wants to graduate on time," Wells said. "He is a good student and a good kid who shouldn't be subjected to this."
Philadelphia Police Lt. Patrick Doherty said the case is still under investigation, but without any new evidence it's unlikely to result in arrests. When I pointed him to a student who told reporters he witnessed the incident, police immediately contacted him, but he failed to show up for their scheduled meeting.
Doherty said that neither Branch nor the student who allegedly pulled a gun on him has a criminal record. And although it would have been easy to file charges and let the courts figure it out, he said that based on the evidence - or lack of - it wouldn't make sense.
"There are enough kids in Philadelphia with [records]," he said.
I can't argue with him on that point. But I'm still left scratching my head at this whole thing.
After many conversations with people familiar with the incident, I'm left with more questions than answers. Just because police didn't find a gun doesn't mean there wasn't one. And we should all know by now how a seemingly nothing beef could end in deadly consequences. Is this one over? I hope so.
So does Wells, whose fear for her son isn't just very real, but based on loss: Wells lost two brothers to street violence.
"I live with that fear for my son," she said. "That's why I'm so afraid for him, for how this whole thing was handled."
I hope these two students steer way clear of one another, now that they realize how much is at stake.
And I hope like crazy that one day we won't be second-guessing the school or police's decisions because something bad happens to Branch.
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