District cops, family remember Sandrea Williams, 17, as relatives also celebrate joys in life

Nadia Syblis (center), the mother of homicide victim Sandrea Williams, takes part in a prayer walk on Thursday in West Philadelphia. At right is Williams’ aunt Yasheca Rhoden. At left is Ronald Ryan of Town Watch Integrated Services. Behind them are Williams’ aunt Naisha Rhoden (left) and grandmother Hyacinth Douglas (right).

It was a particularly meaningful Thursday evening for relatives of 17-year-old Sandrea Williams.

Singing and pleading to Jesus, accompanied by police and West Philadelphia residents, they walked in prayer in memory of the teen who was fatally shot two weeks ago.

Camera icon TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Nadia Syblis (center), the mother of homicide victim Sandrea Williams, holds the arm of Ronald Ryan, of Town Watch, in Thursday’s prayer walk in memory of her daughter. Police Capt. John Stanford (in black cap and white shirt), City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. (in necktie between Syblis and Stanford), and State Rep. Morgan Cephas (in blue dress behind Jones) also walked.

Coincidentally, the walk took place on the evening when Williams’ older sister, Dashana Harvey, 18, a senior at Overbrook High School and the Class of 2018’s valedictorian, was getting ready for her prom Thursday night.

For the family, the day was a mixture of sweetness and sadness.

“Please, Lord, help us,” Ronald Ryan, of Town Watch Integrated Services, said as he held hands with Williams’ mother, Nadia Syblis, and with 19th Police District Capt. John Stanford. “We’re tired of the guns in the neighborhood. We’re tired of the drugs in the neighborhood.”

Camera icon Courtesy of Family
Sandrea Williams

The walk was organized by Town Watch and police to show support for Williams’ family and to urge people to speak out about crimes, including the triple shooting at Carlton and Simpson Streets that killed Williams and wounded two teenage boys. Police are searching for two shooters.

About 75 people participated in the solemn walk that started about 6 p.m. at Vine and Daggett Streets and ended several blocks away in front of Syblis’ Simpson Street home, near the shooting location.

“May God provide conscience to the person who did it to turn himself in,” City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., a Democrat who represents parts of West Philadelphia, told the crowd during the walk.

“Make sure somebody speaks up about what happened,” added State Rep. Morgan Cephas (D., Phila.).

Camera icon TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Dashana Harvey, 18, Sandrea Williams’ older sister, poses for pictures as she prepares to leave for her senior prom outside the family’s West Philadelphia home.

“If anybody knows anything about the death of my niece [Sandrea], please come forward,” urged an aunt, Yasheca Rhoden, 39, as she stood in front of Syblis’ house. “It’s kind of like bittersweet for us here. We are split between good and evil,” she said, as yellow and black balloons tied to the railing of the home’s front steps blew in celebration of Harvey’s prom while on the opposite sidewalk red and black balloons fluttered from a vigil held the night after Williams’ fatal shooting.

It was shortly before 10:30 p.m. May 11 when Williams, a 17-year-old male friend, and a 15-year-old boy were shot while hanging out with other teens on Carlton Street near Simpson.

Police Homicide Capt. John Ryan has said that two shooters — likely teenagers — crept up from a driveway on Simpson and “indiscriminately” opened fire on the group, firing 23 shots. Williams, described by police as an innocent bystander, was shot by a bullet that entered her back and exited her neck, her family said. She was pronounced dead that night at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center.

Camera icon TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
19th Police District Capt. John Stanford helps Nadia Syblis, the mother of homicide victim Sandrea Williams, with balloons that they released outside her West Philadelphia home.

Ryan — who is not related to Ronald Ryan — has said that police believe the shooting was motivated by “some manner of petty neighborhood dispute,” but declined to elaborate.

Williams was a junior at Camelot Academy in North Philadelphia, after spending her freshman and sophomore years at Overbrook High School. Earlier Thursday, Overbrook’s principal, Yvette Jackson, recalled Williams as “a loving force.”

“She was true to her friends, and when she became connected with various teachers, she built a bond,” Jackson said.

“For the family, … despite dealing with a very difficult time in their lives, the family bond is strengthening them,” said Jackson. “And they are celebrating the life of both of their children through this process.”

Williams’ wounded 17-year-old friend participated in Thursday evening’s walk, but declined to comment. In an interview four days after the shooting, he said he didn’t see the shooters or know why they fired their guns.

Sitting in a plastic chair on the front porch of his home that day with a bandage around his left calf, the teen — who did not want his name published — said he and Williams had been talking with about seven other teens when shots rang out, and they all ran down Carlton Street toward 64th.

Williams was like a sister to him, said the teen, who wore a silver chain with her photo and the words “P.I.P.” for Peace in Paradise and Williams’ nickname, “Bro-Bro.” (“She wasn’t girly,” he explained.)

“She didn’t want to do nothing but be successful in life,” he said.

Darin Toliver, a community activist and vice president of the Black Men at Penn School of Social Work, said Thursday that he is organizing another rally for Williams at 7 p.m. May 31 at Carlton and Simpson Streets, which will serve as “a call-out to the community” to step up with information about the shooters.

Tipsters can call the Citizens Crime Commission at 215-546-TIPS or homicide detectives at 215-686-3334. A $20,000 reward is offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.