Mom of slain teen arrested at York Hospital, not allowed to see son
Cheirha Rankins rushed to York Hospital after hearing her 18-year-old son, Nylik Moore, had been shot on East Maple Street.
"I was no more than three minutes behind (the ambulance). ... I thought he could still be alive," she said. "But I was told I had to stay outside."
Rankins, of North York, said she waited outside for hours to see her son — some of that time before she was arrested on hospital property and some of it afterward. But her waiting was in vain.
York Hospital staff on Tuesday, April 24, refused to allow any of Moore's family to view his body or to enter the hospital, which was on lockdown at the time. York Hospital spokesman Dan Carrigan said it's a standard safety procedure to lock down the hospital after a victim of violent crime is brought in.
York City officers, assisted by York Hospital security, subsequently arrested four of Moore's loved ones — including Rankins — outside the emergency department because they were "disorderly," according to citations that were filed by city police then withdrawn.
City Lt. Gene Fells told The York Dispatch on Thursday, April 26, that the summary citations, akin in seriousness to traffic tickets, were withdrawn because the case is being reviewed to see if criminal charges should be filed and against whom.
Also on Thursday, York City Mayor Michael Helfrich's chief of staff, Philip Given, said Helfrich is aware of the situation.
"He has been in communication with Chief (Troy) Bankert," Given said. "They are discussing the issues and figuring out next steps."
Unanswered questions: Rankins said she wonders whether her son was still alive when he was wheeled into the hospital and whether it would have made a difference had she been there with him.
"I didn't get the chance to say 'Hold on' to my son," she said.
Moore, who grew up in York City but was living in North York, was pronounced dead at York Hospital at 5:38 p.m. Tuesday.
He suffered a gunshot wound to his chest, which entered through his back, and a gunshot wound to the leg, according to the York County Coroner's Office, which has ruled his death a homicide.
Even after Rankins was notified that her son was dead, she was not allowed inside, she said.
The scene: Rankins said after she got to the hospital, other family members and friends kept showing up, including Moore's father and Rankins' mother, who suffers from a breathing condition.
Rankins confirmed a large group of people ended up gathering outside the emergency department. Some were Moore's loved ones; others were family members of another shooting victim, she said.
Rankins said although they were becoming frustrated, they weren't threatening anyone or trying to force their way inside.
She acknowledged the scene appeared chaotic on videos shot by a family member.
"But all we were doing was crying and moaning," she said — shocked and anguished by the news of Moore's death.
Rankins said when she was ordered to leave hospital property, she told an officer she was the homicide victim's mother and that she was waiting for someone from the coroner's office to talk to her.
"He still didn't take that into consideration," she said.
Rankins was taken into custody as she tried to help her mother, Kimberley Dickey, who had fallen down, according to Rankins and Dickey.
Handcuffed, cited: Rankins and three others were arrested, handcuffed and taken to the county's central booking unit, where officers wrote up disorderly conduct citations against them, she said.
Rankins rushed back to York Hospital after being released and asked again to see her son but was told hospital policy forbade it, she said.
"I said, 'Let me see this policy,' but they didn't show me anything," she said.
As of Thursday afternoon, Rankins still hadn't been able to see her son's body.
York County Coroner Pam Gay, a registered nurse, said something like that can be quite difficult for grieving families, psychologically speaking.
"It's extremely important for families to see (a deceased loved one) right after death because it allows them to begin the grieving process," she said. "This goes against everything we stand for in my office."
Surprised, disappointed: Gay, who was not at the hospital during the incident, said the plan was to allow Moore's family to view his body.
"Everybody was ready and on board," she said. "In the past, this has never been an issue."
As a deputy coroner was about to summon Moore's family, she was told by a hospital employee that the hospital wouldn't allow it, according to Gay; the employee also informed the deputy coroner that hospital policy forbids any viewings in the trauma bay.
The deputy coroner was then told she had to relay the information to the family, the coroner said.
"I was more than a little surprised. I was very disappointed," Gay said. "I understand emotions can run high in those kinds of situations, but I think we have to put ourselves in the family's shoes. And that's what we try to do."
The coroner said there have been times when she hasn't allowed a family to view their loved one's body, but it's rare. She confirmed she might make that decision if one of the family members is a suspect in the homicide.
But typically, Gay said, "we do everything in our power to allow that to happen, and the hospital has always left it up to (us) to make that decision."
Reviewing policies: Carrigan, the hospital spokesman, said the fact that York Hospital was on lockdown was a separate issue from whether Moore's family would be allowed to view his body.
"In this case, the clinical staff determined the state of the deceased individual, and what is commonly referred to as the trauma resuscitation area, were not suitable for visitors," he said. "We believe strongly that family members should have the opportunity to be with their loved ones at these difficult times, and we regret that we did not make appropriate accommodations to ensure that occurred here."
Carrigan said the hospital didn't have a "well-established procedure in place" to address the situation, but that hospital officials are now working to create that procedure and will work with the coroner's office to do so.
About 3:30 p.m. Friday, April 27, Carrigan emailed a follow-up statement to The York Dispatch from Shelly Buck, vice president, chief operating officer and chief nursing officer for WellSpan York Hospital. It states, in part:
"We have talked to the family to offer our condolences and to sincerely apologize for what occurred Tuesday night. We also have offered to meet with them at their earliest convenience to discuss the issue and hear their concerns in person. These are our patients and our neighbors, and we’re deeply sorry for the pain they’re experiencing. ... On Tuesday evening, our clinicians and staff were working to treat multiple trauma patients. Our hospital emergency department was placed on lockdown — which is a standard safety measure we initiate when our hospital treats someone who has been a victim of violence. During this time, a number of individuals attempted to gain access to the emergency department and became disruptive. Multiple law enforcement agencies, led by the York City Police Department, responded to ensure the security of our hospital and to protect the safety of our patients, staff and visitors. We extend our sincere appreciation and thanks to those responding agencies."
York County doesn't have its own morgue.
York Hospital allows the coroner's office to use the hospital morgue, which has limited space and lacks a family viewing area, according to Gay. Such viewings are done in other areas of the hospital, including the trauma bay, she said.
'Totally unacceptable': Moore's uncle, Anthony Rankins, said the treatment of his family was "totally unacceptable" and wondered whether it has to do with race.
"Maybe they're not in so much of a rush to help us because they're getting used to (black) youngsters being killed," he said. "They had my family sitting and grieving in a parking lot. It just crushes me."
Anthony Rankins said had the hospital allowed Moore's immediate next-of-kin inside, "just maybe there wouldn't have been a commotion outside."
"This all could have been prevented," he said. "Now my family is left with a thousand and one questions."
Anyone with information about Moore's homicide is urged to call police at 717-846-1234, or anonymously text "Yorktips" and your information to 847-411. Or submit tips through the York City PD app.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.