By Vernon Clark and Thomas J. Gibbons Jr.
Inquirer Staff Writer
Faheem Thomas-Childs, the 10-year-old who had been the focus of hopes and prayers since he was shot in the face Wednesday morning while walking to school, died yesterday of his wounds.
The third grader, who was called a "peacemaker" by his teacher at T.M. Peirce Elementary School in North Philadelphia, was pronounced dead at 4:15 p.m. at Temple University Children's Medical Center, sources said.
Cathie Abookire, spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office, said charges against the two men arrested over the weekend in connection with the case would be updated to murder today.
Faheem's home on Lehigh Avenue was dark last night. Members of his family, who had kept vigil at the hospital despite the grim prognosis after the shooting, were not available. He had been unconscious from the moment he was wounded.
Faheem and a crossing guard, Debra Smith, were wounded outside Peirce, at 23d and Cambria Streets, by stray gunfire about 8:30 a.m. during a shoot-out between rival gangs. Smith, who was shot in the foot, was treated and released at Temple University Hospital last week.
That gun battle unleashed a blizzard of nearly 100 shots in the area as children were arriving for school.
The shooting, coming as it did with apparent disregard for the well-being of children making their way to school, captured the city's attention, with police and activists calling for witnesses to come forward, and a reward totaling $75,000 for information leading to the perpetrators. On Sunday, churches across the city offered prayers for Faheem.
Over the weekend, two men from the neighborhood, Kennell Spady, 19, of the 3000 block of Bonsall Street, and Kareem Johnson, 20, of the 2900 block of Taney Street, were arrested and charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault in the shootings. Police said that the gun battle involved about six people and that the others were still being sought.
During his brief life, Faheem impressed people who knew him. He was an A-plus student and a classroom leader, his third-grade teacher, Robert Cunningham, said in an interview last week.
"A real peacemaker"
"He's polite, gentle," Cunningham said. "He was a real peacemaker."
As Faheem lay dying yesterday, police and community activists in North Philadelphia stepped up their appeal for information about the shooting by plastering the neighborhood with leaflets and posters.
"We're giving them to people, leaving them on cars and on doors," Inspector Joe Sullivan, commander of the police Narcotics Division, said of the leaflets he and about a dozen officers were circulating in the neighborhood where Faheem was shot.
Sullivan, who was riding with another officer on a bicycle patrol, said officers were on bikes, in cruisers and on foot as they distributed flyers calling for the community's help in the Gun Recovery Reward Information Program, a citywide effort to get illegal guns off the streets.
He said he was also asking area merchants to display posters about the program in their shops. "All we ask is that their information leads to an arrest and confiscation of a firearm," Sullivan said.
Fear to come forward
Police Sgt. Irvin Riley, who was among officers distributing the leaflets door-to-door to Faheem's neighbors in the 2200 block of Lehigh Avenue, said getting people to overcome their fear and come forward with information was difficult.
"The fear is about retaliation against family members," Riley said. Area residents "know it's the right thing to do," he said, "but they are scared. We try to let them know the information is anonymous, but it's a tough sell."
Riley, who said his family used to operate a store at 15th and Dauphin Streets, said he knew the area well and understood the reluctance to give information to police. "I know the people here; some can't go anywhere else." Riley said. "As police, you try to make life a little easier for them."
After opening his door to receive a leaflet from police, David Chapman, who has lived in the 2200 block of Lehigh since 1959, said, "I've never seen crime this bad, and it's escalating. We can't even sit on our porches."
Chapman, who lives only a few doors from Faheem, said he knew the child as a happy boy who romped with friends in the neighborhood.
"I've seen him running up and down the street like any other kid," Chapman said. "He was friendly and respectful."
Published in Philadelphia Inquirer/Philadelphia Daily News on Feb. 17, 2004.