Father of rampage victim Sara Salih hears gunshots that killed her

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Sara Salih.

This story has been updated.

A burst of gunshots woke Beyan Salih late Friday, about 11:30 p.m. Seconds later, his phone chirped with a frantic call from his downstairs neighbor, Saidi Hagos, who had peeked out her front window to see dozens of uniformed police officers running down the 4800 block of Sansom Street. She was scared.

"Everything will be OK," Salih assured Hagos. Salih went back to bed. At 5:30 a.m., he hurried out the front door of his West Philadelphia apartment for his job as a Center City parking-lot attendant.

It wasn't until the 62-year-old Ethiopian immigrant returned home Saturday afternoon that he learned the eruption of gunfire he had heard had killed his younger daughter.

Sobbing on the family's front porch, his head in his hands, he sobbed for Sara Salih, 25.

"I didn't know," he said in a rough whisper. "How could she be gone? How could this happen?"

Sara Salih had been sitting in a Nissan Altima with a male friend when Nicholas Glenn sprinted down the working-class residential street armed with a 9mm semi-automatic pistol. Minutes earlier, Glenn, 25, had ambushed a police officer and two bar employees three blocks to the west.

As dozens of officers pursued him on foot down Sansom Street, Glenn spotted Sara and her friend, 36, sitting in the white car. He pointed his Ruger SR9 at the couple and fired off several rounds.

Three bullets struck the man in his arms and chest. Seven more shots ripped through the young woman's chest.

Just 10 yards away, Glenn ducked into a narrow alley alongside the brick, two-story home where Sara Salih lived upstairs with her father. Her mother, Zahra Seid, a housekeeper for the University of Pennsylvania, has a different residence.

Police caught up with Glenn. The ensuing gun battle left the home's walls pockmarked with bullet holes - and Glenn dead.

Emergency department doctors at Penn Presbyterian fought for two hours to keep Sara alive. She was pronounced dead at 1:56 a.m.

Her companion - whose identity was not known by the Salih family and not released by authorities - remained in critical condition at Presbyterian on Saturday night.

After learning of Sara Salih's death, her devastated parents and older sister Fatima begged for details.

"What happened?" her anguished mother pleaded, waiting for police to arrive.

"My sister died? Oh my God," wailed Fatima. "I want to see her, where is she?"

The victim's father sobbed in a porch chair.

"I came here [to the U.S.] 24 years ago," he said. "We came for a new life. There is no greater country."

Next-door neighbors and U.S. Army veterans Tyree Swindle and Hannibal Collick, both 35, tried to comfort Salih. Collick put his arm around him and handed him tissue for his tears.

"It's OK, it's not your fault," Collick said. "You're a good father. You can let the tears out."

Swindle, who was at home, had been startled by the gunfire and piercing search lights from a helicopter overhead.

"I heard the gunshots in the front, I heard the gunshots in the back," said Swindle, who served stateside during the Iraq War. He said he was shocked to see 20 to 30 police officers running down Sansom Street.

Collick, who served two tours of duty in Baghdad and suffers from PTSD, was a block away when he heard the shots.

"I was unnerved," he said. The shooting was too familiar, bringing him back to the death of a close friend in Iraq.

Police arrived and took the family members inside. There, they said officers told them they would have to wait until Sunday to see Sara's body. After police left, the family insisted on going to the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office in University City.

Morgue attendants, however, would not allow them to view the body. They were told to return Sunday.

As Fatima Salih left the building, she paused to talk about her sister.

"Sara was outgoing and outspoken," she said. "She didn't hold anything back from anyone."

She said Sara was a newborn when the family arrived in the United States 1992, emigrating to Philadelphia from Ethiopia. The young girl went to public school in Southwest Philadelphia. For the last 10 years, the family had lived in the two-bedroom upstairs apartment on what is usually a quiet stretch of Sansom Street behind Central City Toyota at 4800 Chestnut St.

As her father worked two parking-lot jobs, Sara became a dedicated student. 

"She wanted to become a paralegal," Fatima said. "She always loved dreaming about the future."

samwood@phillynews.com

215-854-2796@samwoodiii