Iread the story in last Tuesday's York Dispatch and, I'm not kidding, my jaw actually dropped to my chest in surprise.

The story shocked me and made me angry at the same time.

Oh, it's nothing new. And I know that. It happens a lot more frequently than most of us would like to believe. Still, it bugs me.

Skyler Handy, 20, was accused by witnesses of shooting two people, then pointing a gun at a police officer, outside a York City nightclub in mid-March.

This is the same Skyler Handy, by the way, who sits in York County Prison without bail for his role in the killing of 9-year-old Ciara "CeCe" Savage, an innocent child who was gunned down in early May while playing with friends on a city sidewalk. That shooting is alleged to be gang related.

But let's fast forward to last Monday, when Handy was in District Judge Barbara Nixon's court for a preliminary hearing.

In the early morning hours of March 14, in the vicinity of Cherry Lane and West Market Street, Lance Sease of York City punched Jahkeem Abney of York City, in the face.

At some point, Handy is alleged to have pulled out a handgun and shot Abney and then continued to shoot at him as he tried to run away. In the process, a stray shot grazed a second man, Quinn L. Salisbury.

A York City Police Officer, Alexander Marek, happened to be in the vicinity when the bullets started flying. He began chasing Handy on foot, according to the police report. At one point in the chase, Handy allegedly turned and pointed his gun at the police officer, who fired about five shots at the gunman.

Handy was later charged with attempted homicide, aggravated assault and reckless endangerment for the incident.

But all those charges were dismissed last week in Nixon's court.

Why? Because witnesses refused to testify or took the stand and either had a change of heart or claimed a memory lapse.

Abney, who suffered numerous gunshot wounds to his legs and one to his back, claimed he didn't know who shot him. He did say, however, that it wasn't Handy who shot him. Beyond that, he said, he was drunk and high that night and didn't recall what actually happened.

The second man shot, Salisbury, did not testify because he didn't show up. Perhaps he's in hiding; perhaps he's on the run, perhaps a lot of things, I guess. Whatever the case, the police couldn't locate him.

Then Sease -- the guy who allegedly started the whole thing -- took the stand. He admitted he had a deal with the prosecution that if he testified he'd get some consideration for his own unrelated charges.

Does anyone think Sease would have been called to the stand to testify if the prosecutor, Chuck Patterson, wasn't certain Sease would give incriminating evidence against Handy? Not me. Patterson's too smart for that. A lawyer never calls anyone to the stand -- or shouldn't -- unless he knows the answer to the question before the question is asked.

Clearly, Sease had told police that Handy was the shooter, and Patterson expected him to testify that way. That must have been the agreement Sease had with Patterson.

So I'm thinking Patterson was crossed up when Sease testified that Handy did nothing more than "sit there and chill."

Marek said it was too dark to positively identify the gunman while chasing him.

There you have it, three witnesses -- two with bullet wounds and one with an agreement with the prosecution -- who all of a sudden disappeared or went brain dead.

One witness, Tyrone Summerville of York, testified that he saw Sease punch Abney in the face. And he said he saw Handy pull out a .40-caliber handgun. But he didn't actually see Handy fire the gun, he said.

In the end, Nixon felt she had no choice but to dismiss all the charges against Handy -- including the attempted homicide charge -- for lack of evidence.

Say what you will, this case was lost -- at least for the time being -- because witnesses (some were even participants) refused to "snitch," even on the guy who, in this case, is alleged to have shot them. 

Witness intimidation? Could be. Or maybe it's some sort of stupid code. Keep the cops out of this -- we'll settle it later on our own terms. Or let me off the hook, and we'll let bygones be bygones.

It's about people living in the city not having the guts to stand up against the crime and violence that pervades nearly every neighborhood. Why? Because they don't want to get involved. They don't want to risk doing the right thing. They don't want to be labeled a snitch. They don't even want to point the finger at someone and say, "He's the one who shot me."

Patterson calls it urban "amnesia." Others might suggest it's self-interest run amok.

Well, I have news for those fools who refuse to see, hear and speak about the evil in their midst. Until people decide to stand up and do the right thing, the roots of evil keep digging deeper and deeper.

And more and more people get hurt or die.

Drug dealers and gang members, for example. Convenience store robbers. Young thugs with guns.

Or innocents in the wrong place at the wrong time -- 9-year-old Ciara Savage, for instance.

Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mon days, Wednesdays and Fri days. E-mail: lhicks@yorkdispatch.com.