In Overbrook, marchers recall victims, demand end to gun violence

Heeding God's Call, a faith-based movement seeking an end to gun violence, marched on Sunday in Overbrook.

The group of several dozen marched down Woodcrest Avenue, singing.

When they came to the place where James Patrick Stuhlman was gunned down, near a fire hydrant in the middle of a leafy Overbrook block, the people - men and women, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim - paused to act out what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called "a vocation of agony."

"We are brothers and sisters who are growing up without seeing what our siblings would become, and we want to end the killing," the Rev. David Brown said.

Brown and others from Heeding God's Call, a faith-based movement that seeks to end gun violence, gathered Sunday to mourn the death of Stuhlman, who was slain March 12 as he walked his dog.

Stuhlman, 51, who owned a landscaping company in Delaware County, was the third person killed by gun violence in Overbrook in two years. Authorities have said a 14-year-old and two 15-year-olds were playing basketball when they decided to rob someone.

The trio confronted Stuhlman, then shot him in the chest as he begged for his life.

Tyfine Hamilton and Brandon Smith, 15, have both been charged as adults in the crime. A 14-year-old faces robbery and conspiracy charges.

Stuhlman was mourned and remembered on Sunday, and those who marched demanded that his death not be in vain. Use his loss to stop other losses, they demanded.

The group prayed and sang, marched and hugged one another. A few members of a choir leaned against a "No Truck Parking" sign, offering perfect harmonies in the warm spring air.

"It is important for us to let it be known, the scourge of gun violence in this city," said Brown, a retired Methodist minister.

Movita Johnson Harrell's son, Charles Andre Johnson, 18, was killed in 2011 in a case of mistaken identity, she said. She marched in honor of him and of Stuhlman, whose name Harrell shouted with equal parts reverence and anger as she addressed the crowd.

"James Patrick Stuhlman had a right to live safely in his community!" Harrell said. "All of these people's blood is running through the streets of Philadelphia, and we can't get these illegal guns off the streets."

Four years later, the grief over her son's death is still fresh, Harrell said. She identifies particularly with Stuhlman's 11-year-old daughter.

"His daughter will never see her father again," Harrell said.

After the group solemnly marched to the place where Stuhlman died, Heeding God's Call member Bob Fles spoke of a pair of Woodland Avenue neighbors who joined the crowd for part of the service.

They could stay for only a short time. They found the memory of Stuhlman's death too difficult.

"The ripple effect of each murder spreads outward," Fles said, "causing unending pain."