'A tragic day for all': Student gunned down near high school
Nicole Smith did her best to keep the flames going.
She stooped with a tiny lighter over a constellation of prayer candles at a corner of Penn Park — where her nephew, 17-year-old Malaki Beady, was shot dead Wednesday morning — lighting them one by one.
The breeze and off-and-on drizzle made it a difficult task. As soon as she lit one, another would extinguish.
Meanwhile, city and school officials met behind closed doors to discuss what to do next amid a rash of gun violence in recent weeks.
Beady, a student at the nearby William Penn Senior High School, was shot just after 11 a.m. near Kings Mill Road and South Pershing Avenue. According to the coroner's office, he was pronounced dead at the scene at 12:22 p.m.
It wasn't clear Thursday what brought Beady to the park during school hours.
The high school itself was scheduled for an early dismissal Wednesday, a routine practice designed to help teachers catch up with training and other tasks, and school officials released students at roughly noon that day as police were still investigating the shooting.
Some of Beady's classmates walked past his body on their way home, much to the consternation of parents and guardians, who took their grievances to social media.
"My kids were dismissed into this . . . without any call to the parents or [the] school being on lock down," one parent, Megan Williams, said. "If it wasn’t for my daughter calling me, I’d never known."
"I am absolutely ticked off they would let them out early knowing what happened," said another, Jamie Lewis.
Lewis said her son called her about 11:45 a.m., when the students were released. The students weren’t allowed to exit the doors facing Penn Park, but many still had to walk that way to get home, she said.
From her vantage point near South Pershing and College avenues, Lewis said she could see police blocking roads at the park as students walked through the area.
“Y otra cosa soltaron a los estudiantes sabiendo él rebulu que al habìa afuera," yet another parent, Marie Ortiz, posted on Facebook. Translation: “And another thing, they released the students out knowing the mess that was going on outside."
In a separate interview, Ortiz said her son called her and told her about the situation. She expressed concerns about security at the school.
“The body was covered," city police Lt. Dan Lentz said. "We had barriers around before they were released. After dismissal, nobody would’ve been able to get a view of the body or trample the crime scene.”
Lentz said he didn’t know why the lockdown was lifted or why Beady was in the park around 11 a.m. Those were questions for school administrators, he said.
The shooting is still under investigation, and Lentz said detectives are focused on identifying the suspect or suspects in the case.
Superintendent Andrea Berry declined comment Thursday, saying she was headed into a call with police. According to the district's social media accounts, a robocall was issued to families Wednesday informing them of the incident.
"This has been a tragic day for all of us, and I ask that you join me in keeping the student’s family, friends and teachers in your thoughts at this very difficult time," Berry said in that call.
On Thursday, students at both William Penn and McKinley K-8 attended school remotely. Later on Thursday, Berry announced they would do the same on Friday. Breakfast would be available for pick-up from 8 to 9 a.m. and lunch from 11 to 1 p.m. at their respective schools.
Both schools also are offering counseling services for students and staff.
York City Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow was not available for comment Thursday.
In a lengthy Facebook post, Muldrow wrote: "This was definitely an untimely incident and a hard scene to hold; all while trying to support the family, be there for our dismissing students (and set aside our own grief)."
Earlier this month, in response to a spate of violence that left two people dead, Muldrow told The York Dispatch he felt the pain of these deaths personally. Muldrow previously served as chief of the school district's police department.
“They’re hard for you when they happen, particularly because you know the people, you know the families,” he said at the time.
Back at Penn Park, Smith didn't want to talk about her loss except to say that most people knew of her nephew Malaki as "Mikey."
Her candles spoke for her, bearing messages to "Mal," prayers and images of Jesus Christ, Maria de Guadalupe and St. Jude.
She fought the wind and the rain to keep them alight.