SW Community Mourns Kingsessing Victims 

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Hundreds gather at The Common Place July 5.

Family, friends, neighbors, and Southwest community members gathered at The Common Place on the Wednesday evening following the ghastly mass shooting in Kingsessing.   With prayer, singing, and witness they mourned their five  fellow residents killed by gunfire and the added numbers wounded or injured on July 3rd.   

After the memorial service at the Salt & Light Sanctuary at 58th Street and Chester Avenue, many of the worshippers walked the nearby streets as a tribute to their fallen friends.

The gathering, the first of several which have taken place at churches in the area, was arranged by Salt & Light’s paster, Rev. Cean James.  The music was lead  by Salt & Light’s Praise and Worship team and featured new singer Gina Epperson whose powerful soprano voice soared over the congregation.  

Other pastors joining Rev. James at the pulpit for prayer included  Pastor W. Lonnie Herndon,The Church of Christian Compassion; Rev. Dr. Leslie D. Callahan, St. Paul’s Baptist Church; and Pastor Cedric Hughes Jones, Jr., Mount Zion Baptist Church of Philadelphia.

Rev. James’ CityLights Ministry had conducted its own annual vigils marking deaths of local persons killed by gun violence.  A measure of the rise in such tragic acts is that for the past several decades, there were fewer than 30 murders in SW a year; in 2022, there were 51 slayings according to police records.  The CityLights litany included prayers for victims and family, neighbors, and community, first responders, and the perpetrators, as well.       

While complete details of the sad episode are still emerging, it appears that in addition a fifth person, Joseph Wamah Jr. had been murdered some 44 hours earlier.   Sadly, gun fire was apparently reported to the nearby 12th Police District via 911 but due to a  communications breakdown, officers were directed to North 56th Street rather that the correct Southwest address.

The Monday night victims, all of whom were going about normal evening activities, included Lashyd Merritt, 21; Dymire Stanton, 29; Ralph Moralis, 59; and DaJuan Brown, 15. Two boys aged 2 and 13 were among the wounded.

Rev. James’ Salt & Light Church, which is a few blocks from where the shootings took place, opened its doors the morning after the shooting to anyone, according to his interview with NPR. He invited both congregants and people outside the church to speak to a counselor or spiritual advisor on staff to process the shooting.  The church can be reached at  (215) 883-0282 or by email at hello@snlphilly.com 

“There’s an old saying in the African American community that Black people don’t go to therapy, they go to church,” James said. “A few years ago, I started wondering, what if people could go to church for therapy?”

One of the pastors in the church has a Ph.D. in mental health counseling and the church pays for his services so that people can see him free of charge. James said the cost of counseling is prohibitive to many people in the community, and a lot of Black people have also had negative experiences with counselors that did not understand them, their culture or their community.

James said he thinks people have started to feel a return to safety, in part because of having a safe space to talk and grieve with neighbors, but also as more information is released that the alleged shooter was acting alone.

“People are out more than normal really by the end of the week, comforting each other, talking with each other, being community for one another,” he said. “This is a strong and resilient community.” 

Mayor Jim Kenney and District Attorney visited with community leaders after the shootings and emphasized the urgent need for effective and common-sense gun safety legislation at state and national levels.  Pennsylvania cities have been blocked by the conservatives in the State Senate from passing any meaningful controls on ownership and carrying guns.  The same is true on a national level.  

For more information about Salt & Light and The Common Place visit www.snlphilly.com

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