Downtown Pittsburgh safety again in question after fatal stabbing
Lashaya Fields’ heart sank when she heard about a fatal stabbing Thursday at a bus stop in Downtown Pittsburgh.
Fields, 24, of Wilkinsburg didn’t know the victim, Janice Purdue-Dance of Erie, but she often saw the 61-year-old around the Sixth Avenue bus stop.
“She was a nice person, very religious,” Fields said. “She was always praying. I’m very concerned.”
Fields often catches a bus at the same spot. She carries a pocket knife for protection, because she feels threatened walking around Downtown streets.
News of the stabbings and a series of telephone bomb threats Thursday evening at establishments in Allegheny and Washington counties, including Pittsburgh’s Benedum Center, drew mixed reactions from Downtown businesses, pedestrians and community leaders.
Police charged James Wyatt, 23, of McKeesport with stabbing Purdue-Dance and another woman around lunchtime Thursday, describing the crimes as random. The stabbings occurred in the presence of a police officer.
“We’re treating these as isolated incidents and it really hasn’t had an effect on us,” said Craig Davis, president and CEO of Visit Pittsburgh, Allegheny County’s official tourist promotion agency. “On the whole, Pittsburgh is an incredibly safe city.”
He said visitor’s centers located around the city have fielded no concerns from people about safety Downtown.
Julia Gittins, 23, a Pittsburgh native who lives in Philadelphia, said people should be cautious and aware of surroundings when visiting any city. She was in Pittsburgh on Friday, preparing for her move back.
“I feel a lot safer here than in Philadelphia, but maybe it’s because I feel a sense of community here,” she said. “Just like any other city, when you’re walking alone at night, you need to take precautions.”
Rick Conley, owner of Oliver Flower Shop on Sixth Avenue — just down the street from where the stabbing happened — said he’s experienced a gradual increase in problems on Downtown streets, mainly homelessness, panhandling, drug dealing and shoplifting.
He said he believes it’s led to a decline in business at his shop.
Kevin McMahon, CEO of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, expressed similar concerns in a letter last month to Mayor Bill Peduto. City officials said they are working on plans to address homelessness and other problems and have stepped up police patrols Downtown. Officers on foot and in cruisers were visible on patrol Downtown on Thursday afternoon.
“Data shows that crime is down Downtown this year over last year, but, that being said, the city is already committed to working closely with all Downtown stakeholders to address their concerns,” Peduto spokesman Tim McNulty said.
Conley said Oliver Flowers has been in business in Squirrel Hill for 90 years with a shop Downtown for 30 and on Sixth Avenue for the past 15 years.
“I would say we have noticed a change in the last four years. I have to say we have noticed a slight improvement, but it’s still an issue. My biggest concern is we are within eyesight of three hotels and all those people who are staying there, if they want to go to a sporting event or they want to go to the Cultural Trust theaters, they have to come down Sixth Avenue. Sometimes they have to step over these people who are passed out due to drug overdoses.”
Tyler Calpin, manager of Social Status, which specializes in high-end sneakers, said he was impressed with the quick police response to the stabbing. Officer Chuck Handerhan was at the scene when the women were stabbed and immediately arrested the suspect. Calpin said he just left a bus and was walking to his shop about a block away on Liberty Avenue.
“For people who don’t live in Pittsburgh, it makes Downtown seem a much more dangerous than it actually is,” he said. “I don’t feel any more or less safe. I feel, if something happens like that again, the response will be the same.”
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter .