A 46-year-old man was shot dead minutes after he dropped his toddler daughter off at a day care center Monday in Nicetown. The victim’s 17-year-old son was in the car and watched as he was gunned down, police said. The shooter, they added, was a man the victim had “history” with.
The shooting happened on the 4400 block of Germantown Avenue shortly after 8 a.m., just after Eric Eberhart, known in the neighborhood as a devoted father, volunteer football coach, and hard worker, took his 2-year-old to the child-care center, police said.
Eberhart was spotted by Darnell Snell, 49, of the 1000 block of Van Kirk Street in the Summerdale section of the Northeast, who was driving a white delivery van, police said. Snell, authorities said, worked for the CBS Kosher Food Program and was making a delivery to the day-care center.
The men “had some history together,” Capt. John Ryan, commander of the Homicide Unit, said during an afternoon news conference.
They argued, and Eberhart got into his vehicle and drove off. Snell, police said, followed and after about a block shot Eberhart, who was struck in the chest in view of his son.
“It was absolutely terrible,” said Ryan. “Our hearts go out to the family.”
Eberhart, of the 1600 block of Bristol Street in Nicetown, died shortly afterward at Einstein Medical Center as police combed the area for Snell.
Police said that after the shooting, Snell abandoned the van on the 2100 block of Tioga Street in nearby Tioga, outside another day-care center.
He eventually surrendered to the Homicide Unit and was taken into custody, police said Monday night.
Ryan said Snell and Eberhart argued “over a woman that they’re both familiar with,” but did not elaborate.
Authorities said that it appeared that Snell and Eberhart’s meeting was a chance encounter.
On Monday night, family and friends gathered outside the Eberhart home, hugging, crying, laughing, and telling stories about a man who was well-respected in the neighborhood, they said.
Eberhart worked hard as a custodian and a handyman, but had also spent time working in security and had received promotions while working in shoplifting prevention at stores in New Jersey. He had hoped to become a police officer, his family said.
But perhaps the first thing that people knew about Eberhart was what a devoted dad he was.
To his five children — from his eldest, a college student, to the 2-year-old, whom he celebrated with a birthday party this month — Eberhart was an involved father. From the time son Eric Jr. was a baby, Eberhart had raised the boy alone, the family said. It was Eric Jr. who watched his father be gunned down.
“He was a family man,” said cousin Yvonne Eberhart.
Eberhart overcame early losses to thrive, his family said. His mother died when he was 10, and he and his brother, to whom he was close, were raised by their grandmother. He got a job at age 14, and that set a pattern for his life — he had a strong work ethic, his family said.
He graduated from Gratz High School, where his speed made him an asset to the track team.
“There was something special about him; he would help anybody out,” said Michael Pannell, another cousin. “People respected him. He had a bark, but he had no bite.”
He was curious and energetic, the family said, and not afraid to speak his mind.
Eberhart coached Eric Jr., who played in the Nicetown Titans football league. And he was good with his hands; he was known as the person in the family you could call if you were moving, or needed someone to hang a mirror or complete another project around the house.
Two days before his death, Eberhart got together with cousin Lavarr Zuber, who always looked up to him.
“It can be hard out here for a black man, but he was strong,” said Zuber. “He was a mentor to me.”
Zuber and Eberhart watched the 76ers playoff win on TV Saturday over the Heat in Miami. They hadn’t seen each other in a few months, and it was a joyful time, Zuber said. They vowed to make plans to go to Las Vegas together — Eberhart had never been there, and he wanted to see a little more of the world.
The scene felt a little surreal Monday night, friends and family said. Someone bought chicken, hot dogs and hamburgers, and a grill made the block smell good. Children ran around, riding bikes. Pannell pointed to a little boy in a red shirt, zooming around on a scooter and smiling. It was Eberhart’s 7-year-old son.
“It’s going to hit him when he goes to the funeral,” Pannell said. “It’s going to hit him when he sees his dad in a coffin.”