‘You get used to it’

Neighbors caught in crossfire of Nicetown shootout miffed over media coverage

Naomi Pettit, 21, lives on the 3700 block of 15th Street, right across from where alleged shooter Maurice Hill riddled bullets through the late afternoon and evening Wednesday, injuring six police officers and terrorizing the neighborhood, before finally giving himself up.

Pettit was on her way home from work when she heard about the shooting on the news. Her daughter, Mylah Robinson, 2, attends daycare at Precious Babies Learning Academy Inc., on the corner of 15th Street and Erie Avenue, but Pettit couldn’t get through because of bullets ripping through the air and the army of Philadelphia Police personnel and their vehicles that littered the streets. 

“I got a phone call from the daycare that they were on lockdown,” said Pettit, who was finally reunited with her daughter after a SEPTA bus transferred all the children to Germantown Avenue several hours later. “When I saw her, she grabbed me tight and asked for her dad.”

On Thursday, Pettit finally got the chance to visit her home – which was shot through with bullet holes, to gather some clothes before taking her daughter to her sister’s house. “I don’t want her to be around this,” Pettit said. “Me and her dad are working on getting out of this neighborhood as soon as possible.”

Residents’ sentiments Thursday morning after the shootout ranged from Pettit’s desire to move away, to gratefulness that no one was killed, to rage at the media and police that no one pays attention to this Nicetown-Tioga neighborhood, where crime is no foreigner, until cops go down.

“I seen cops dropping and lots of shots,” said Quadreer Collier, 21, standing outside Esther Mini Market diagonally across the street from the crime scene with two friends. “[Honestly?] I thought, ‘Justice.’ It was somewhat good that cops was droppin’ because we always droppin’. I’m not saying what he [Hill] was doing was right. We just want justice. We want streets safe and fair… I get shot, they not looking for my killers, it’s certainly not national news. I want the same if I get shot.”

The alleged gunman, Hill, finally gave himself up Wednesday night after a seven-and-a-half-hour shootout with police fueled by an apparent drug raid. Hill had at least an AR-15 style rifle that he was using, according to Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross. Two officers ultimately became trapped inside the building along with several civilians, all of whom got out safely with the help of the SWAT team, Ross said.

Thursday morning, the entire 3700 block of 15th Street was still an active crime scene and would be for a while until tear gas police used at around midnight dissipated, said Philadelphia Police Lt. Craig Sweeney.

Police were slowly towing cars that had been hit with bullets off the street as evidence. The area would remain a crime scene until police’s forensics team could get in to safely conduct their investigation, Sweeney said.

Mayor Jim Kenney issued a statement Thursday about the shootout, saying in part: “In the face of what could have been a horrific tragedy, the peaceful resolution of the incident marks one of the finest moments in the history of the department, and I am proud of every officer who was involved.The fact that our officers found themselves under such an attack while trying to carry out a basic function of their job is reprehensible. Seeing an entire neighborhood put in harm’s way was nothing short of devastating. We can and must do more to protect our officers and all Philadelphians.”

Prince S., who was relaxing on his porch on Erie Avenue and didn’t want to give his last name, said, “It was a warzone. It was like Vietnam. All the bullets were ricocheting everywhere.”

A woman sitting next to Prince S., who would only identify herself by her initials B.B., said she was walking through her house on Erie Avenue this morning – a home she has lived in since 1968 – thinking, “That’s it. I’m selling. I’m thinking real hard about it.”

Jamar Nesmith, 27, has lived in the neighborhood for his entire life. “We need issues of real importance [covered by the media], not just cops getting shot,” Nesmith said. Admitting that the violence in his area was not usually at the level it reached last night, Nesmith said crime happens around there all the time. 

“It’s scary, but after it happens so many times, you get used to it,” he said. “It just don’t make the media.”

Ron C., who only wanted to give the first initial of his last name, agreed with Nesmith that violence was no stranger to this neighborhood.

“This magnitude – that was unusual,” said Ron C., who lives four blocks from the crime scene. “I think it’s just going to make it [Nicetown-Tioga] more notorious on a national level. “I’ve seen friends get shot, but I’m just happy nobody got killed, no bystanders or children or anything. Look, bullets have no name, but he was intentionally shooting at cops. Maurice [Hill], the infamous villain hero, is putting Erie Avenue on the map.”

Loretta Plummer, 66, who has been working at Allied Foot Care for 30 years, just down the street from the crime scene, said she went home yesterday at 1:30 p.m., before the shootout started. “I was gone, thank God,” Plummer said. “They [police] were in the back alley and everything.”

But Plummer said she wasn’t afraid and wasn’t going to look for another job in another neighborhood after this. “Anything could happen anywhere,” she said.

“I’m just glad nobody died,” said Eric Belfiore, 38, who lives in a recovery house across the street from the crime scene. He said for much of the night he stood outside trying to shoot footage of the standoff but kept failing to press record. 

“The adrenaline was pumping,” Belfiore said, although he has spent years on the streets of Kensington as a user and seen other people get shot. “I saw someone’s head get blown off. His brains were all over the ground. I’m kind of callous. We live in the city. There’s everything you see on TV and in the movies. This is a movie right here. He [Hill] just kept shooting and shooting and shooting and shooting.

Belfiore paused and continued:

“Live your life and live it while you can because you never know. It was a warzone out here. Love your loved ones.”

In the meantime, Pettit said she was probably going to take her daughter Mylah with her cousins to a bouncy house or somewhere else fun today, “to take her mind off of it.

“They need to try to get this under control.”

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    Courtenay Harris Bond is a Philadelphia-area freelance journalist, who covers behavioral health, social justice, the opioid epidemic, among other topics.