Marvin Roberts is a 16-year-old boy, but he is being charged as an adult with murder. Roberts is charged with shooting Gerard Grandzol in the face, twice, at point blank range during a botched carjacking. Grandzol had handed over his wallet but not his car keys, police say, because his two-year-old daughter was in the back seat of his vehicle. Later, it was also reported that Roberts was free on probation after being found guilty of robbery earlier this year.
These facts weighed heavy on my mind, as I’m sure they have on many Philadelphia residents. I needed to walk around, so I headed toward a street festival in the Queen Village section of the city.
At the festival, I noticed an on-duty police officer who was standing behind a three-foot high metal barrier, which cordoned off a small area for the festival. His name was Wayne Morris. As I launched into a tirade about the shooting, going from zero to 60 in five seconds, Morris listened. When I finished, he paused for a moment and said, “The same thing happened to me,” pointing to an indentation on his left cheek.
In a very matter-of-fact tone, he explained that in May of 1999, while he was off duty and unloading groceries outside of his West Philadelphia home, he was ambushed by a young robber, who shot him in the face. It took him 15 months to recover. Taken aback, I asked him if the shooter was ever caught. “No,” he said. Not knowing what to say, I replied, “I’m glad you’re still here.” He thanked me.
Before writing this letter, I decided to look up information on Officer Morris. What I found astounded me. A Jan. 11, 2007 story in the Daily News started by saying Morris, besides escaping death himself almost seven years ago, had lost two stepsons and a nephew to murder. The stepsons, Jamil and Jermaine Fluellen, were slain in unrelated incidents within 10 days of each other. The nephew was killed around the same time.
But more crushing sadness followed. The article said Morris’ 21-year-old son, Christopher Freeny, was gunned down two blocks from home on a Wednesday night in 2007. He had taken his bicycle and left to buy some takeout. According to police, the suspect shot Freeny in a jealous rage.
“No one is exempt from this type of tragedy,” said Troy Morris, 32, the officer’s nephew and Freeny’s cousin. “You never think it is going to happen to your family. This stuff is senseless.”
The coincidental conversation with Officer Morris made me think of how long gun violence has had its grim grip on this city. It also made me realize that you don’t have to look very hard to find someone whose life has been affected by the epidemic of violence. Families continue to be ripped apart as love ones are erased from living, while those who are found guilty continue living behind bars.
Sadly, senseless … once again.
Peter Tobia is a former Inquirer photographer. firstname.lastname@example.org