Murder victims' relatives, law enforcement officials meet in McKeesport
McKeesport residents, city and Allegheny County police officials took a step toward building a better relationship at a meeting about unsolved murders.
Booker T. Washington Lodge 281 along Walnut Street, commonly known as the McKeesport Elks Club, was packed on Thursday evening with friends and relatives of victims of violent crimes.
“It's a start and it's a beginning,” said Latoya Wright. “We still have a long road to go, but I do believe that if this happens more often and the solutions that were given today are taken care of, then I believe more things will start to happen in the city.”
Wright's daughter's father, Carlos Napper, died after being shot outside the Elks Club on July 14, 2007. He was 30 and his case remains unsolved.
Wright said she found comfort on Thursday evening as she was surrounded by others dealing with similar situations.
“It means that you're not alone,” she said. “There are other people out there that are grieving and hurting the same way you do. That's comfort and encouragement to be able to have someone help you deal with your pain.”
Two large boards were filled with the photographs and names of at least 25 of those whose murders remain unsolved. Some murders occurred in the 1990s, while others happened less than a year ago. Some did not die in McKeesport, but all victims were from the city.
Attendees stood as the names of their late loved ones were called.
McKeesport police Chief Bryan Washowich discussed the problems officers come across when trying to solve a case.
“When we get to the scene of a shooting, unfortunately our biggest problem is the unfortunate ‘no snitch' rule that's on these streets,” Washowich said. “We have to figure out a way to get some sort of a trust between law enforcement and the community and the prosecutor's office regarding people coming forward with information.”
Allegheny County police Superintendent Charles Moffatt and county homicide Lt. Andrew Schurman explained the law enforcement process and encouraged people to take a stand.
“We are an assisting agency for the 129 municipal police departments in Allegheny County,” Schurman said. “We have groups of detectives who do nothing but specialize in a specific type of crime ... That's why McKeesport police call us.”
“We have an incredible working relationship with the McKeesport police,” Moffatt said. “We need cooperation from the citizens ... You have to come to realize you can't give up your homes and your neighborhoods to some thugs.”
Wright suggested starting a petition to hire more police, noting people signed petitions and protested a proposed strip club in McKeesport.
“I would like to see another 50 police officers out there,” McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko replied. “Let's make that clear. The bottom line is we also need to operate the city in a manner in which we can survive financially. We don't have the money to hire another 50 police officers. Public safety is first and foremost our number one priority in our administration. It's not like we don't want to put the money in there.
“We're doing what we can with the budget ... It doesn't matter how many police officers you have out there. The policing aspect can help curb the acts of violence, but you're not going to prevent them.”
The meeting was hosted by We Need Justice Too McKeesport, a group founded by city Councilwoman V. Fawn Walker-Montgomery and her cousin Mae Hudson.
Hudson's son, Carlos Hudson, 41, was shot to death in a vehicle on Aug. 22, 2013. He was pronounced dead at the scene at Riverview Street along with his passenger, Jana Randolph, 49.
“I didn't want this to be like all the other vigils or community meetings against violence that I've been to, which include a lot of politicians or community leaders talking and talking ... I'm so tired of talking,” Walker-Montgomery said. “The main purpose was to build back the relationship and talk about some solutions.”
She kept the crowd focused on developing solutions, quelling several outbursts about racism and finger-pointing.
Solutions discussed include more security cameras, cops walking beats, more youth activities, calling local representatives and holding them accountable and designing a response team for community members.
Others suggested parents take more responsibility for their children and discipline them.
“If we handled the kids the way they're supposed to be handled, we're going to jail,” said resident Doris Stinson. “You can't call the law, and if you beat them you're going down ... I'm raising one. I got to call the cops to tell them he ran away. If I would handle it, he would have never moved.”
The response team idea came after several attendees said they never received condolence calls from police or other officials and felt abandoned by investigators. That became a theme toward the end of the meeting, and officials apologized for any lack of communication.
“If there are developments we always talk to victims' families,” Schurman said.
People who could not make the meeting but want to get involved can email Walker-Montgomery at email@example.com.
Anyone with information regarding crimes in McKeesport can contact city police at 412-675-5050 or Allegheny County police at 412-473-1300.
Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or firstname.lastname@example.org.