Chester city mayor declares emergency

Chester City's mayor put the small, struggling city of 37,000 under a state of emergency that started at 9 p.m. Saturday.

There have been four murders in eight days including that of a toddler killed by a bullet to his head. And, Saturday morning was the last straw - no heavier than the rest - just the last straw. Police found a young man dead, with an unknown number of bullet wounds.

As he issued his order, Mayor Wendall N. Butler Jr. said Saturday afternoon he was responding to "an unnerved community reaching out, saying 'Enough is enough.'"

So he has formalized the city's state of emergency until Wednesday, when he expects the full City Council will agree to extend restrictions for 30 more days.

The starkly worded mayoral proclamation says "No person without a legitimate reason is allowed on any public street or in any other public place" between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

No more than three people can gather without obtaining a city permit. No one on the 96-member police department can take a vacation day. All will be working 12-hour shifts, many of the city's beleaguered cops will work 16 hours a day.

The mayor promised that anyone who violates the emergency orders would be prosecuted.

But under Saturday's searing afternoon heat, Chester already looked like a city on lockdown. No pedestrians walked its dusty downtown. Only the occasional car moved through.

Police Chief Floyd Lewis said that so far this year there have been 11 murders. By this time last year, there were seven. In all of last year, fewer than 20.

Butler had hoped last the community rally against violence, which drew 300 strong Thursday, would send the message that Chester couldn't take more killings.

"There were a lot of tears," he said gravely. "A lot of people lost loved ones."

That included the family of 2-year-old Terrence Webster. The toddler was shot through the closed door of the family's home in a public housing development last week. He died last Monday at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

A gunman ambushed the family as they returned home around 2:30 a.m. June 13. They made it into the house and shut the door. But the gunman shot two bullets through the door; one struck the boy's father, Thomas Webster, in the hand, before it hit the child in his forehead, police said earlier. At some point in the scuffle, the gunman shot Tisheta Green, the boy's mother, in the leg.

The U.S. Marshal's Office has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

The mayor said he is hoping that extra troopers from the state police, detectives from the Delaware County District Attorney's office, sheriff's deputies who've agreed to assist police on patrol, and additional federal law enforcement agents can help his city.

He wants to hire eight more police officers and ask City Council to approve a gun buyback program.

Every Thursday night for the next nine weeks, residents are scheduled to rally against violence. But more than anything, the mayor said he needs residents "to be our watchdogs" and asked them to call a police tip line at 610-447-7810 if they have information about the killings.

 


Contact staff writer Cynthia Burton at 856-779-3858 or cburton@phillynews.com.