Slain Spring Garden activist Gerard Grandzol's widow: City not safe, we're leaving

Kristin Grandzol on the roof deck of her Spring Garden home. She and her daughters are leaving the city, where they no longer feel safe after their husband and father, Gerard Grandzol, 38, was shot to death outside their home last year.

Kristin Grandzol walked through the Spring Garden townhouse that she and her husband, Gerry, had bought in October 2014.

Amid packed boxes, she pointed to the wooden living-room tables that her husband built and the framed artworks he created — one of stained glass and another of aluminum and tile. Most recently, he built their rooftop deck, carrying each cedar plank up three flights of stairs.

In their third-floor bedroom, she stopped to gently touch the wooden container that holds her husband’s ashes.

Camera icon Courtesy of Family
Kristin Grandzol with her daughters, Violet, 2, and Rose, 7 months, at the North Street community garden in Spring Garden, where they placed a rock to remember Gerry Grandzol.

Six months after Spring Garden neighborhood activist Gerard Grandzol, 38, was fatally shot in front of their 2-year-old daughter, Kristin Grandzol and their two daughters are moving this month to the safer environs of Chester County. Two other families on Melon Street already left for the suburbs.

“We don’t feel safe,” Grandzol said Monday, sitting in their second-floor kitchen. “I’m scared all the time now, so I can’t stay here.”

In her first interview since the Sept. 7 shooting outside their home, Grandzol, 34, opened up about her worries that her husband’s accused killers could return to the streets, about the horror of that night, and about how her daughters, neighbors, and others have been affected by the tragedy.

Brothers Marvin Roberts, then 16, of Tioga, the accused shooter, and Maurice Roberts, 20, of Frankford, who are both in custody, face trial on charges of murder, robbery, and related offenses.

Camera icon Courtesy of Family
Grandzol memorial rock in the community garden

But Grandzol fears that under District Attorney Larry Krasner’s announced goal to seek more lenient sentences, prosecutors would support a recent defense motion to have Marvin Roberts tried as a juvenile or seek a plea deal that would allow him or his brother to get sentences shorter than life in prison. Convictions of first- and second-degree murder carry life sentences for adults.

“This wasn’t an impulse,” Kristin Grandzol said. “There was no remorse. It was extremely violent. I know I wouldn’t want to still be on the streets of Philadelphia with them free.”

If tried as a juvenile and convicted, the younger brother at most would be under court supervision until age 21. His new court-appointed attorney, Eileen Hurley, declined to comment.

Krasner’s spokesman, Ben Waxman, said in an email Tuesday that “it is highly unlikely that our office would ever support moving the case from adult court to juvenile court.”

A date has not been set for a hearing before Common Pleas Court Judge Kathryn Streeter Lewis on whether Marvin Roberts’ case will remain in adult court.

Michael Medway, the older brother’s attorney, acknowledged Tuesday that a surveillance video showed Maurice Roberts on the block at the time of the shooting. But, he said: “My client certainly didn’t intend for this victim to have been shot.”

The two assailants had approached Gerard Grandzol after he got out of his Audi SUV, authorities said. He handed over his wallet, but not his car keys. In a calm voice, he said he wanted to get his daughter Violet from her rear child seat.

“For that request, he was shot and killed,” said Kristin Grandzol, who stayed strong during the interview, pausing occasionally to wipe away tears.

Subway surveillance video appeared to show the younger brother laughing after the shooting.

Daddy ‘got the boo-boo’

Her father’s death may forever scar his older daughter. When Violet woke up last Monday morning, she wanted to talk about him, her mother said. “She said, ‘Daddy died because he got the boo-boo on his face,’ ” Grandzol recalled. “And then something distracted her, and that was that.”

“Not only did they take Gerry, they took her innocence,” she said.

During the interview, Violet was at preschool. Grandzol’s younger daughter, Rose, who was 6 weeks old when her father was killed and is now 7 months, smiled as she was watched by her grandmother.

Violet and Gerry were best friends, Grandzol said, but Rose won’t know her father. His cousins created a photo book about his life, An Angel Among UsGrandzol reads it to her girls.

“He just had this magnetic personality, and all this energy, and he had so many interesting hobbies and interests,” Grandzol said.

The two met in 2011 and married four years later. He worked at a legal recruitment firm in Center City, but he was so much more, she said.

“He could play the piano, the guitar, the drums. He could paint,” she said. “But mostly, the best thing about Gerry was how he brought people together. He was always the first person to plan a birthday party or community bike rides, cleanups.”

Before Spring Garden, Gerard Grandzol lived in Francisville, where he was a board member of the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corp. He supported development in the neighborhood, where tensions over gentrification linger. Neighbors said he had friends among area residents new and old.

Camera icon Courtesy of Family
Gerard Grandzol dances with daughter Violet, 2, last May at his sister’s wedding in Washington state.

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke has said that Grandzol was a point person for initiatives in Spring Garden, including an effort to repurpose one of the few abandoned houses near the block.

“He did so much for this community and he just wanted to make it a better place,” said Kristin Grandzol.

“Everybody misses him on the street, especially the kids,” whom he would line up for scooter and running races, she said. “He was the first one grilling hot dogs for the kids.”

Among his many passions, her husband was an avid ice hockey player who participated in Checking for Charity. After his death, the group held a memorial tournament to benefit the family. At the event, “Violet ice-skated for the first time,” his wife recalled, wiping away tears. “It was really, really hard that day.”

‘See you in an hour’

The evening of Sept. 7, 2017, remains seared in Grandzol’s memory.

Her husband returned home about 6 p.m., then drove Violet and the family’s sheepdog, Oscar, to Lemon Hill to play Frisbee. Kristin stayed home with Rose.

Camera icon Courtesy of Family
Gerard Grandzol with his daughter Violet, 2, at the August  Checking for Charity ice hockey tournament in Voorhees.

“I didn’t kiss him,” she said. “I didn’t say I loved him. I just said, ‘I’ll see you in an hour.’ ”

About 8 p.m., Grandzol heard two gunshots outside her second-floor balcony door. She ran outside and saw her husband lying in the street. “I just started screaming,” she said.

“And then in the midst of all that, I realized Violet was right there and that she was still in the car, was watching everything. I just started screaming for my neighbor Allison: ‘Get Violet!’ ”

Allison Casey, 38, who lives across the street, ran outside and saw Kristin cradling her husband’s head.

She unbuckled Violet from the rear child seat and carried the toddler into her house. “She was inconsolable,” Casey recalled Tuesday. “When I finally got her to calm down, she was hyperventilating.”

“For weeks and weeks after he died, [Violet] would say, ‘Where’s Daddy? Where’s Daddy?’ ” Grandzol said.

“I’d have to go over and over again with her that … Daddy died, and when someone dies, it means that they can’t come back. … And to tell her that over and over and over again has destroyed me.”

A week ago, the young widow and her two little girls placed a rock in memory of Gerry Grandzol at the North Street community garden near their home. “Love grows here,” it says.

“The Roberts brothers have taken so much from our life,” she said. “I don’t want them to take my daughters’ happiness.”