Death on the street: What Gerard Grandzol, Russell Byers have in common

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Philadelphia Daily News columnist Russell Byers (left), was slain 18 years ago; Gerard Grandzol (right) was killed Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017.

As one life touches another, one death touches another.

Thursday’s killing of Gerard Grandzol, who worked to make his community better, took me back 18 years to the killing of Russell Byers, a Yale alum whom I got to know when he became a Daily News columnist after decades of civic service to make his city better.

Each slaying was senseless and unprovoked, a casualty of living in the City of Brotherly Love, although we have no monopoly on senseless violence or violent people. In each case, the alleged killer was too young to order a legal drink.

Byers, 59, a native of Pittsburgh, was stabbed in a Wawa parking lot on a Saturday night in Chestnut Hill, a neighborhood associated with old wealth and privilege. Grandzol was shot, two weeks before his 39th birthday, on a weeknight in Spring Garden, a diverse neighborhood associated with gentrification.

Byers and his wife, Laurada, had stopped for ice cream. Javier Goode demanded money, and when he stepped toward Laurada, Byers instinctively pushed him back. Goode could have pushed back, or could have run. Instead, he pulled a knife and stabbed Byers in the heart.

Grandzol, after parking his Audi on Melon Street, was stopped by Maurice Roberts, 21, and his 16-year-old brother, Marvin, who demanded his wallet and his car, police say. Grandzol handed over his wallet, but not the car keys because his 2-year-old daughter was in the back seat.

The 16-year-old fired two shots into Grandzol’s head, police say. The brothers could have run off with the wallet, but Marvin allegedly chose to take a fatal step.

Neither man will soon be forgotten. In addition to his published work, Byers’ brick-and-mortar legacy is the charter school at 1911 Arch St. that bears his name. In a sad coincidence, it opened exactly 16 years ago, on Sept. 11, 2001.

Another legacy was a plaque placed at the truck loading dock outside our old building (where smoking was permitted), that said: “For Ten Years / Russell Byers / Stood Here / Smoked Lucky Strikes / and Pondered Ways to / Make the City Better.” I joined him there occasionally and enjoyed the benefit of his ideas and his secondhand smoke.

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Russell Byers plaque

Grandzol, a native of Hamilton Square, N.J., was the executive director of Special Counsel, a firm that recruits lawyers and paralegals. He was a board member of the Spring Garden/Francisville Neighbors Association and a volunteer for Young Leaders.

Public relations exec Jeff Jubelirer remembers Grandzol as “gregarious, full of life,” a cyclist and skateblader.

Grandzol was the father of two adorable young daughters, Violet, 2, and Rose, 7 weeks old. Looking at their pictures on his Facebook page will make you cry for their innocence and pray that Violet won’t remember being a witness to her father’s murder.

In each case, arrests came quickly.

Fearing capital punishment, Goode accepted a plea bargain resulting in life in prison without parole.

On Wednesday, a Mass of Christian Burial for Gerard Grandzol will be celebrated at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, in his adopted hometown.

Both killings had more than one victim: two widows, children, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, friends, coworkers, a circle of surviving misery.

Gerard Grandzol, as with Russell Byers 18 years earlier, leaves behind a city diminished by his absence, a city sadder and poorer.