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York City shootings concern residents

Christopher Dornblaser, and Sean Philip Cotter
York Dispatch

Shortly before 4 p.m. Tuesday, the 911 airwaves buzzed with reports of a shooting around the intersection of West Princess Street and South West Street in York City. Within a couple of minutes, a teenager with a gunshot wound walked into York Hospital.

Just over an hour later, near the same intersection, someone shot another teen. Four hours after that, another shooting was reported — this time in the 100 block of North Duke Street.

The violent night in the city is the latest in what York City Police Chief Wes Kahley acknowledged is an "increase" in shootings in the city. In the past week and a half, at least nine York City shootings have left nine people hurt and one dead.

York City Police investigate a shooting on S. West Street, Tuesday Dec. 22, 2015. It was the second shooting in two hours. (John A. Pavoncello - The York Dispatch)
York City Police investigate a shooting on S. West Street, Tuesday Dec. 22, 2015. It was the second shooting in two hours. (John A. Pavoncello - The York Dispatch)

The fatal shooting happened this past Friday, when as many as four people broke in to a home in the 700 block of West Pennsylvania Avenue around 10:30 p.m. and shot to death DaKeem Dennison, 19, of the 400 block of Girard Street in York City, police say. The invaders, who, according to police, likely targeted the people inside the home for drugs or money, also shot Damon Banks Jr., 19, in the buttocks.

"The behavior’s totally unacceptable,"said York City Police Chief Wes Kahley, talking about the heightened violence.

He said it's very largely not random — the victims are targeted, and much of it likely has to do with the drug trade. The chief said his officers are working long hours, focusing in particular on "areas of concern," and trying to find the relatively small amount of people who are involved in the violence.

"It’s a matter of getting the right people off the streets," he said.

Kahley had a couple of examples: Omar Jameson-Garcia and Anthon Reece, both of whom are wanted on suspicion of shooting a man in October, and incident that left the victim, Miquez Johnson, paralyzed. Charges were filed last week against them both, but they currently remain on the lam.

"There are people out there who know where they are," Kahley said.

It's incumbent on the people of York City to step up and stop the violence, as they've done before, he said. After all, the chief said, it's to everyone's detriment when there's violence and chaos in the streets.

"Our community’s a victim," he said.

City residents expressed exasperation and concerns about the violence.

Frustrated: Aaron Anderson, CEO and head of LOGOS Academy, a faith-based private school in the city, lives not much more than a block away from Friday night's shooting.

"This kind of stuff, it's so frustrating to me that this kind of thing happens in our community," he said.

Anderson believes much of this issue is tied up with drugs.

"We've got to break the drug trade that's coming into here," he said.

Anderson said the community has to work to help people make better decisions.

“There’s just got to be a way for us to figure out a way to break this senseless cycle of violence," he said.

He said one way to help improve the situation is an emphasis on education. He said his school focuses on teaching its students respect, love, and being able to take responsibility.

"Those things go a long way," he said.

Anderson said those principles spill into connected issues.

“I would hope that our students would come out and say it’s not good for our community to engage in the drug trade," he said.

He said education is critical, but there are multiple pieces as a community that needs to be put together as well.

Anderson does not like the way the violence makes the city look to others.

"I think it's easy for people to look at this and say 'Oh the city's such a terrible place," he said. "That's simply not true."

He said the resources are there to change and alter that.

"I do believe that's possible, I'm still hopeful," he said.

Susie Klugh said she was at her niece's home on South West Street near two of Tuesday's shootings. Klugh, who has five children, said the area used to be a better place to live.

"I'm worried about my daughter now, going to the corner store in broad daylight. That's not right," she said.

Klugh expressed anger at the violence that seems to have overtaken her neighborhood.

"The statement I want in the paper is, put the guns down. Be a family again like we used to be. Fight with your hands. Put the guns down."

"I wish everybody could unite": Dustin Hildebrand, of Punks for Positivity, a group based in the city with the goal of helping build a better image of the city, is saddened by the shootings.

"I wish everybody could unite," he said. "As one, we could do so much more, we can revitalize the city, we can make it into something great."

He said the violence especially hurts the city's youth.

"The young generation is seeing all this stuff, they're going to think it's the right thing to do," he said. "It's definitely not."

Hildebrand said the area benefits from new businesses coming in, but that's not a panacea for all the issues York City.

"If we don't take care of the problem areas where there's drugs and violence, it's not going to help what we're bringing in," he said.

But there's no simple fix, he said.

"I wish I had a solution, there's always going to be beef, and it's so easy to say 'squash your beef,'" he said.

"Best thing I can say is not resort to violence," he said. "Be civil, have a conversation."

“We’re so much stronger together than we are apart,” he said.

Unfortunate: York City Councilman Michael Helfrich also believes education is critical to stopping the violence in the city.

"It's unfortunate that our kids don't feel like they have more opportunities than to go into this very dangerous lifestyle," he said.

He said there needs to be more opportunities in the city, such as job and life skills training.

"The jobs that are available are outside of the city," he said.

He said the tax structure needs to be fixed to allow for manufacturers to come into the city, like they had in the 1960s and 1970s.

“We’ve got big warehouses that are ready to go in the city, that are just sitting there,” he said.

He said a lot of the shooting going on is gang-related, and he said the decision to be involved with gangs is made very young. To combat that, he said activities should be available for them.

"We need to provide activities for the kids," he said, adding that sports programs would help draw them into educational programs.

Helfrich said making them feel like they're part of a community would help.

"It's what you do for the people that makes them feel like they're a part of the community that combats that," he said.

Police say the shooting incidents don't have any readily apparent connection. Lt. Troy Bankert, who's in charge of the city's detective bureau, said the department is looking into any possible links, and they'll expand that analysis to other recent shootings if nothing comes up.

Additional shootings: On Thursday, one person suffered gunshot wounds to the hands — suggesting the person had put them up in front of himself in self defense — on Jefferson Avenue at North Pershing Avenue shortly before 6 p.m. on Thursday, police said.

That was followed by another shooting a few hours later on Edison Avenue, where a victim suffered a graze wound to the neck from a bullet.

Going back another day, around 6 p.m. Wednesday a teenager suffered a graze wound to the face in a shooting in the 700 block of South George Street.

The previous night, police found a gunshot victim near the intersection of Smyser and North Newberry streets; Bankerts said the victim had been shot down the block from there.

The Saturday, Dec. 12, shooting occurred in the 700 block of West Mason Avenue around 6 p.m.

"This isn’t how York should be," said Kahley, the police chief. "This isn’t how our community should be."

Anyone with information about any of the incidents can call York City Police at 846-1234.

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at cdornblaser@yorkdispatch.com.