Wayne Morris lost two stepsons and a nephew to murder and narrowly dodged death himself almost seven years ago when a robber shot him in the face outside his West Philadelphia home.
That seems like more heartache than one man should bear in a lifetime.
But grief gripped Morris - a Philadelphia police officer - again this week, when his 21-year-old son, Christopher Freeny, was gunned down two blocks from home on Wednesday night. He had taken his bicycle and left to buy some takeout. It was the 15th homicide of the year.
Detectives moved swiftly to solve the case, and last night issued an arrest warrant for the alleged gunman, Napheace Ballard. Police said Ballard, 30, of 57th Street near Broomall, shot Freeny in a jealous rage.
"It was misguided anger and jealousy that led to this," said Homicide Lt. Phillip Riehl. "The shooter believed that his girlfriend had exchanged phone numbers with the decedent. That was incorrect."
Riehl said Ballard and Freeny got into an argument about 8:25 p.m. Wednesday that ended when Ballard pulled out a revolver and shot Freeny numerous times on Larchwood Avenue near 52nd Street in West Philly.
When Freeny slumped to the ground, Ballard stole his bicycle and pedaled to his home on 57th Street, Riehl said. Police recovered Freeny's bicycle at Ballard's home, and investigators were actively trying to track him down last night. Riehl warned that the suspect is "armed and dangerous."
Riehl noted that police were able to identify Ballard as a suspect quickly because eight witnesses had cooperated with investigators. If more citizens cooperated with police in other cases, "we would be identifying suspects and issuing arrest warrants every day," Riehl said.
While the new developments in the case were no doubt encouraging to Freeny's family, they still struggled to accept his tragic death.
"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's going to happen to you or your family. This stuff is senseless."
Troy Morris and other shell-shocked relatives gathered yesterday morning on the front porch of the tidy rowhouse where Freeny lived with his father, a 19-year police veteran who was assigned to patrol South Street in recent years. The officer wasn't home and couldn't be reached for comment.
They periodically peered across the broad expanse of Malcolm X Memorial Park nearby, toward the spot where Freeny fell, mortally wounded in the chest and shoulder. A memorial of teddy bears scrawled with RIP messages marked the spot on the seemingly safe residential street.
"You're just doing nothing and you get killed. That's how the world is right now," cousin Della Thomas said, shaking her head in disbelief.
Relatives described Freeny as an outgoing, thoughtful young man who adored his eight siblings and who never hesitated to help his grandmother and other relatives with tasks big and small.
He played basketball at University City High School and Franklin High School, from which he graduated about three years ago, Troy Morris said.
"He was a straight A-B student," Troy Morris bragged.
Since graduation, Freeny attended classes at the Community College of Philadelphia, but dropped out until he decided his career path, relatives said. He planned to attend again this spring, although he remained undecided about a profession, they added.
He liked to make music and rapped as "Cosel," a nickname born of his smooth-talking Howard Cosell-like voice, Troy Morris said.
He had an upbeat outlook on life despite his family's frequent brushes with tragedy, relatives said.
His father survived being shot in the face in May 1999, when a robber ambushed him outside their home as he unloaded groceries from his car. The robber was later arrested.
About five years ago, Wayne Morris lost a nephew to homicide, relatives said. In May 2002, two of his stepsons, Jamil and Jermaine Fluellen, were slain in unrelated incidents within 10 days of each other, relatives said.
Relatives lingered at Freeny's home hoping to comfort his father.
"He's staying strong for the family," Troy Morris said.