In the days after two 16-year-olds were shot dead in South Philadelphia and a third was charged with pulling the trigger over an apparent Instagram beef, the city’s police commissioner openly worried about neighborhood tensions spiraling out of control.
Nearly six months later, emotions are still near a boil.
Family members of one of the victims, Salvatore DiNubile, a junior at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, say they have been taunted with a stream of inflammatory social media posts and a menacing anonymous phone call. DiNubile’s father awaits trial on charges that he threatened a friend of the alleged shooter, Brandon Olivieri.
On Friday, another man was arrested in the case: Prosecutors charged Marc Malerba, 20, with disposing of Olivieri’s alleged murder weapon and instructing a witness not to cooperate.
The mother of the other slain teen, Caleer Miller, meanwhile, says she has been awash in grief, unable to sleep, and prone to breaking down without provocation.
And Olivieri’s parents moved out of their South Philadelphia home after it was sprayed with bullets and they received a threatening anonymous letter, according to the teen’s lawyer.
Interviews with relatives of the victims — their first since the killing — reveal how the pressures, anger, and heartache from a murder can become compounded when the victims are teens, with ever-changing social circles colliding in tragedy, and emotions subsequently spilling unfiltered onto social media. This case also involves boys of three races and from three schools, with hundreds of friends who turned out for vigils and funerals.
Capt. Sekou Kinebrew, Philadelphia police spokesman, said the opportunity for perceived threats, insults, or other messages of intimidation to spread online makes an age-old quandary for police even more challenging. The likelihood of family members coming across such posts is heightened when people on various sides of an incident have mutual friends, acquaintances, or neighborhood connections, he said.
“That’s making it more real, and more concrete, and more haunting, because they’re seeing it,” said Kinebrew, who added that the department takes such threats “very seriously.”
The DiNubile family said one of the most harrowing incidents recently occurred when the harassment, which had largely been digital, turned into a phone call. An anonymous caller, they said, phoned the Oregon Avenue bar owned by the boy’s father, also named Salvatore DiNubile, and allegedly threatened to chop off his head.
Relatives reported the call to police, but say they remain worried.
“My mind,” said the younger DiNubile’s grandfather, Pat Bianculli, “never rests.”
Neither family expected to wade through such ugly territory.
The younger DiNubile was known to family and friends as “Tankie” — a reference to his tank-like build and his Broad Street Bully mentality while playing hockey and boxing, his favorite sports. His father said that despite his son’s tough-guy exterior, the teen had a softer side, doing homework with his mother, helping his grandfather relocate last year, and always saying “I love you” to his parents.
Miller’s mother, Aishah George, said her son was the oldest of three boys, a basketball player, and 76ers fan who was a good student at Mastery Charter School’s Thomas campus in South Philadelphia. George said her son was so well-behaved that on the night of his death, she called police to report him missing because he never stayed out two hours late.
Plainclothes officers arrived on her Point Breeze block later that night. When George asked why they weren’t in uniform, she recalled, they said they were from the Homicide Unit.
Shocking crime, painful aftermath
The shootings happened Oct. 24 at 12th and Ritner Streets, a half-block from DiNubile’s house. Prosecutors have said that Olivieri, Miller, and at least one other teen encountered DiNubile and others at the corner, and that Olivieri pulled a gun during a dispute, firing at DiNubile and hitting Miller by mistake during a scuffle.
In the three days between the shooting and Olivieri’s arrest, tensions in South Philadelphia bubbled and rumors swirled. Overnight on Oct. 27, someone shot more than a dozen bullets at his family’s home. No one was injured and the crime remains unsolved.
Olivieri turned himself in later that day and is imprisoned while awaiting trial. His lawyer, James Lammendola, said Olivieri is in protective custody due to the threats against his family.
At Olivieri’s preliminary hearing in December, prosecutors said the motive for the shooting may have been an unspecified Instagram feud. But their key witness — a friend of Olivieri’s — turned hostile at the proceeding and refused to answer many questions.
The DiNubiles say that Olivieri is part of a group of young men who deal drugs and guns, posting pictures online that often allude to violence. Lammendola called that assertion “ridiculous” and said the DiNubiles are trying to “vilify” his client before trial.
Bianculli and DiNubile shared screenshots of numerous photos with the Inquirer and Daily News, with captions belittling people who talk to police and frequently using a variation on the phrase “Free B-Dot,” which the DiNubiles say is a reference to Olivieri.
In one video, a group of men can be seen dancing and saying “F— Sal! Free Brandon!” Another photo, according to DiNubile, is tagged near the home he bought after the shooting, while a third is a black screen tagged “Cookie’s Tavern,” the name of the bar he owns. He and the family view such images as tacit threats.
“They know indirectly that it’s going to get back to us,” Salvatore DiNubile said.
Family members said they shared the screenshots with the assistant district attorney assigned to the case.
Lammendola, meanwhile, said an anonymous letter was left for Olivieri’s parents at their South Philadelphia home. It says they created a monster and will “never be safe,” and ends with a crude ethnic reference. He also said they received threatening Facebook messages.
George, Miller’s mother, said she has deliberately avoided social media so that she doesn’t see any potential ugliness directed toward her or her late son. She called any threatening behavior “very ignorant, very disrespectful.”
“Myself and [DiNubile’s] family, we lost our children,” she said. “There should be no reason why I have to go to a cemetery to talk to my kid.”
Olivieri is due back in court in May, with his lawyer petitioning to have him tried as a juvenile. The DiNubiles plan to present an array of witnesses to try to persuade a judge to keep the case in adult court.
DiNubile said that he left his job due to the pain of losing his son, and that his wife has not recovered from it either. He worries that his younger son, 14, will be impacted by the case and its aftermath.
“We love South Philly,” he said. “But look what it did to us.”