Six killed in weekend violence

Dispute over bet turns deadly

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Henry Atkins, 18, who said his cousin and next-door neighbor, Arthur Jennings, 20, was one of three people killed at the Abay’s Wheeler Bar in West Philadelphia. “It was all over a bet,” he said.

First, he lost a bet. Then his life.

A shooting rampage that left three people dead and one critically wounded inside a Southwest Philadelphia bar yesterday began when one man failed to pay off a wager on the Hopkins-Wright light-heavyweight fight, according to the cousin of one victim.

The semi-automatic gunfire shortly after midnight was the beginning of a violent morning that later saw two more shooting deaths in other parts of the city.

Together with a stabbing in Hunting Park, the five deaths brought the year's homicide total to 233, on pace to be the highest number in a decade.

The gunman inside Abay's Wheeler Bar on South 62d Street had won the bet, and flew into a rage when the loser didn't produce any money, said the cousin, Henry Atkins, 18, of the 6200 block of Reedland Street, a block from the small corner tavern.

Atkins, who was sitting on his steps, staring blankly ahead with moist eyes, said his cousin and next-door neighbor, Arthur Jennings, 20, was one of the dead men. "It was all over a bet," Atkins said, shaking his head.

He said another victim, Claude "Netty" Snelling, 30, had wagered on Ronald "Winky" Wright, a challenger to light-heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins of Philadelphia.

Hopkins won a unanimous decision. "Netty bet on Winky, and when the guy wanted his money, he didn't have it," Atkins muttered. Then he stood and abruptly went inside, leaving unanswered the question of how much was owed.

A neighbor who knows the family said that Snelling was the boyfriend of Jennings' mother and that the two victims lived together. The third homicide victim was Jamar Thompson, 31, of the 3500 block of North Masher Street.

The fourth victim, a 35-year-old man who has not been identified, is in critical condition at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, police said.

Police Sgt. William Gallagher said that witnesses were still being interviewed and that he had no knowledge that a wager might be the motive.

But Gallagher confirmed that bar patrons were watching the boxing match on pay-per-view and that the shooting began when the fight was over.

"It appears that whoever did the shooting did so recklessly, and may have even hit some of his friends," Gallagher said. "He fired off at least nine rounds inside the bar using a semi-automatic handgun."

The police officer said each victim was shot multiple times in the chest and abdomen.

Danielle Murray, 38, who said she has lived across the street from the bar her whole life, said she heard a woman scream "help me, help me" as gunfire sounded. Others reported seeing men fleeing from the bar in all directions.

The rowhouse bar seats about 15 people, Murray said, and at one time was a fine neighborhood hangout. "It was a plain old place you could go to with your mother and have a sandwich. There was no fighting," she said.

But in the last few years, she said, the neighborhood changed. Drugs are sold on street corners, the bar is the scene of frequent fights, and people are afraid, she said.

All three victims had arrest records.

Philadelphia police arrested Jennings in January on charges of dealing drugs. He was free on bail and awaiting his preliminary hearing when he was shot to death.

According to court records, Snelling was convicted in the 1990s in separate cases of robbery, auto theft and drug dealing, and was given prison terms. His longest sentence was for up to 23 months.

In 1996, Thompson was placed on a probationary-type sentence in an auto-theft case. Two years ago, he was charged with drug dealing, but prosecutors later dropped the charge.

Another neighbor, Kim Knox, 39, said there have been about four or five shootings at or near the bar in the last year. "People are dying for nothing at all. We need to close all these bars, and the delis, and the Chinese stores where there's all this trouble," she said, a desperate tone in her voice.

And Helen Beyer, 61, said: "I can't even go out anymore - it's too violent."

In front of the bar, which has a black, graffiti-marred door and several neon beer signs, a bouquet of colorful balloons inscribed with "We Miss You" and "Love" were tied to a street sign.

Several stuffed teddy bears were also lined up underneath the sign, which bore indications that the neighborhood is trying to fight back: one poster for "Town Watch," another that proclaimed the block a "Drug-Free School Zone."

Mayoral candidate Michael Nutter, a former city councilman, said he was appalled by the latest additions to Philadelphia's spiraling homicide rate.

"It is outrageous, unnecessary, and requires an immediate public response by the mayor and the police commissioner," he said in an interview. "We need a dramatic change in how we're dealing with the issue of gun violence in Philadelphia. We're in a crime emergency."

Nutter called for city officials to take more action to stop the escalating gun violence.

"We need to take necessary steps to target illegal weapons and aggressively pursue those carrying illegal weapons and those on bench warrants and in violation of probation on parole," he said.

Mayor Street's spokesman, Joe Grace, said the mayor was working with other mayors in Pennsylvania to push for stronger gun laws.

In response to Nutter's comments, Grace said the city hired 200 more police officers this year; opened five new curfew centers; committed $3 million to an antitruancy program; began training 1,000 neighborhood leaders in conflict resolution; initiated a neighborhood-based, youth-oriented violence-reduction program; and graduated its first class of at-risk youths from the Adolescent Violence Reduction Partnership.

"We're fighting every day to reduce and prevent gun violence," Grace said.

About two hours after the bar shooting, another gun victim lay on the street in the Wynnefield section with a bullet in the back of his head. Charles Tunstall, 23, of the 5400 block of Diamond Street, was shot after he left the Hong Kong Restaurant & Chinese Food on the corner of 54th Street and Arlington.

Police responded to the scene after reports of gunfire. A nearby store owner, who didn't want to be identified, said surveillance cameras were installed on street poles about six months ago to try to curb the violence.

"I guess it's not working," he said.

Fresh bloodstains were still visible outside the restaurant and across the street where the body was found.

"I watched him grow up. He was always respectful and hard-working," Vern Mack, a family friend, said as she sat outside her home and wept.

"He was friends with my son, who was killed a block from here three years ago. My son was 21. Our children can't live to be 25," she said.

Shortly after 5 a.m., still another man lay dead on a city street, this time in North Philadelphia. That man, who has not been identified pending notification to family, was shot shortly after 5:15 a.m. in the 1700 block of Dauphin Street.

In the city's Hunting Park section, an 18-year-old man was found with multiple stab wounds in the back Saturday night.

Officers were called at 10:35 p.m. to 1334 Venango St., at Germantown Avenue, police said. He was taken to Temple University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Police did not release his identity or any further details yesterday.

There are no suspects in any of the cases, police said.


Contact staff writer Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224 or jhefler@phillynews.com.

Staff writers Craig R. McCoy and Jeff Shields contributed to this report.