City Councilman David Oh is recovering after having been stabbed in the back Wednesday night in an attempted street robbery outside his home in Southwest Philadelphia, as police continue to seek the assailant.
The councilman’s office said in a statement Thursday morning that Oh had “a successful surgery overnight” and would “remain at the hospital to monitor his recovery but expected to fully heal and return home soon.”
Lt. John Walker of Southwest Detectives said the 57-year-old Oh was stabbed once in the left flank between his chest and waist while on the 5800 block of Thomas Avenue on the western edge of the city’s Kingsessing section about 9:45 p.m.
The assailant, whom Walker described as an African American man in his mid-20s with a scruffy beard, approached Oh as he was taking some bags out of his Chevrolet Equinox sports-utility vehicle and said something to Oh that the councilman couldn’t understand.
Oh tried to engage the man in conversation, Walker said, but his attacker replied: “Give me the keys.”
Oh had “no idea it was going to be a robbery attempt,” Walker said.
Police on Thursday morning were still looking for the attacker. There was no immediate indication Oh’s position on City Council played a role in the crime.
Neighbors and Oh’s wife, Heesun, came out to find the councilman on the ground lying in a pool of blood and called police, Walker said.
Medics rushed Oh to Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in critical but stable condition. He was “alert” and able to briefly speak with police before being taken to surgery, Walker said.
Officials said Oh underwent exploratory surgery to make sure there was no damage to vital organs.
“The Councilman thanks the medical staff, his Council and City colleagues, and the community for their prayers and support, and he looks forward to getting back to City Hall to serve Philadelphia,” the statement from his office said.
Detectives were searching the area for surveillance video and interviewing potential witnesses. The alleged assailant, described as wearing a dark shirt with white lettering and dark pants, was last seen running westbound on Thomas Avenue towards Cobbs Creek Parkway, Walker said. He did not take Oh’s keys or other personal belongings.
Council President Darrell L. Clarke and other city officials rushed to the hospital to check on their colleague.
“David’s a tough guy. He’ll be OK,” Clarke told reporters waiting outside the hospital.
“It’s a case of, [at] any point, any time, it doesn’t matter who it is, random violence strikes again,” he said.
In an earlier statement, Clarke said: “David is a valued colleague with a young, beautiful family. We ask all Philadelphians to keep Councilman Oh and his family in your thoughts and prayers.”
Mayor Kenney, who is traveling in Iceland, said in a statement sent by city spokeswoman Lauren Hitt:
“We are all praying for Councilman Oh’s quick recovery and thinking of his family during this difficult time. Whenever violence happens on our streets it is a terrible tragedy. Anyone with information regarding this crime is urged to call 911.” Kenney later reiterated that message on Twitter.
Police Commissioner Richard Ross received news of the stabbing while attending a conference in Nevada where big city police chiefs were talking about strategies to reduce violence.
“We’re glad [Oh] is going to be OK,” Ross said, but he added that the incident “speaks volumes to the fact that we’ve got to work together with all our community members and all our partners” to drive down crime.
“We obviously still have a lot of work to do,” he said.
Councilman Allan Domb heard the news about his colleague late Wednesday.
“Crime is awful for everybody, not just a councilperson but this just hits home,” Domb said. “He was probably out working as a councilman and he’s coming home at 10 at night … people just have to have more regard for each other than they do. It’s out of control.”
Matthew Pershe, a legislative aide for the councilman, said Oh had just arrived home from a meeting with small-business leaders when he was attacked. Pershe and other staff members were gathered at the hospital early Thursday.
Other council members and elected officials from the area also voiced concern.
Oh, an at-large councilman since 2011, was the first Asian-American elected to political office in Philadelphia. A Republican, he is the only military veteran (Army National Guard) currently on City Council.
He grew up in Southwest Philadelphia and his family has lived in the neighborhood, one filled with three-story homes with tidy front yards, since 1953. He and his wife have four children, Hannah, Joshua, Daniel, and Sarah.
The councilman’s stabbing is not the Oh family’s first encounter with violence.
In 1958, his cousin, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, was beaten to death in the Powelton section of West Philadelphia by a group of juvenile boys while he was mailing a letter to his parents. The killing of In-Ho Oh made national news and highlighted tensions between Penn and its West Philadelphia community.
According to the councilman’s website, In-Ho Oh’s parents requested leniency for the boys and started a fund to help educate and rehabilitate them. Last year, the 3600 block of Hamilton Street was renamed In-Ho Oh Memorial Way in his honor.
Staff writers Tricia L. Nadolny and Emily Babay contributed to this report.