Weeks after her daughter was killed in 2014, Stephanie Long set to work making a wall calendar featuring photos of Amber, along with some of her artwork and architectural drawings.
It was the first of others to come. She sends some to relatives. But one also always goes to the Philadelphia Police Homicide Unit. She hopes and prays that seeing Amber’s artwork on the wall reminds detectives that her daughter’s killer has not been caught.
“It probably helps a little,” Long told me last week.
Five long years have passed since her daughter, a bubbly young architect just 26 years old, was gunned down during an attempted purse snatching while walking to her car in the 900 block of North Front Street in Northern Liberties.
It was one of those murders that caught people’s attention, particularly women’s. We were struck by the randomness of it and how what had happened to Stephanie Long and her daughter really could have happened to anyone.
I met Long, who’s from Harrisburg, a few days after. It was at a frigid outdoor protest organized not for her daughter but for someone else’s, also killed during a senseless act of street violence. After she spoke, organizers gathered around Long, embracing her as tears flowed.
In the weeks after, women took self-defense classes. Some even talked of no longer carrying handbags. Others began carrying pepper spray. Eventually, there were new horrors to take the place of what happened to Amber.
This year, when the Jan. 19 anniversary rolled around, I hesitated before reaching out to Long, questioning what would be the point of dredging up the awful story of a homicide that frankly shocked a city not easily shocked. How many years can you share essentially the same facts?
Long and her mother had attended a gala at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the night of Jan. 19, 2014. Police say they were walking close to each other and appeared to be animated and laughing as they went to retrieve Amber’s car. On a desolate stretch of Front Street, two men approached and grabbed at their purses. Amber, who was about 5 feet tall and weighed only around 100 pounds, was shot at point-blank range with a .22-caliber pistol. She collapsed onto a sidewalk and died at Hahnemann University Hospital.
"They came up on them so quickly, it was a natural reaction for Amber to pull back,” said Sgt. Robert Kuhlmeier, who works in the Philadelphia Police Homicide Unit, on Tuesday. “They probably had the gun out [already] and fired a shot.”
Earlier this month, Kuhlmeier reached out to Long to let her know that her daughter’s case hadn’t been forgotten. There’s a plan to possibly help draw fresh attention to the case by placing a billboard on I-95 North to remind people of Amber’s slaying. Other than that, though, there have been no new leads. The city’s $20,000 reward in the case still stands. If you know something, please call Philadelphia Police at 215-686-TIPS or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Long tries to remain upbeat even though it’s hard. Each year, on the anniversary of her daughter’s death, Long makes a point of being in Florida and outside in the sunshine to avoid the dark memories that overtake her when she replays those awful final moments. She still keeps Amber’s ashes on her bedside stand, unable to transfer them to the sunny yellow urn she had first chosen for her daughter.
“That was her favorite color. She was the sunshine girl," Long said, her voice shaking with grief.
Meanwhile, Kuhlmeier still has one of Amber’s 2018 calendars tacked to a wall in his office.
“I look at it every once in a while," Kuhlmeier said.