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Suspect arrested in 2021 shooting death at Manchester Township park

Anthony Maenza
York Dispatch

For 18 months, Chawna Griffith was awaiting justice in the death of her son, Justin. 

Early Thursday morning, justice came. 

Around 6:30 a.m., officers from the Northern York County Regional Police Department, the U.S. Marshal’s Fugitive Task Force and the York County Drug Task Force arrested Elijah Penn, 19, at his York City. He's now charged in connection with the 2021 homicide of Justin Griffith. 

Justin Griffith was killed July 5, 2021, while playing basketball with a friend at Cousler Park in Manchester Township.

“Today is 18 months to the day that we have lost Justin,” Chawna Griffith said, during a news conference Thursday. Every day of those 18 months, 549 days, it has not been easy for us.” 

Griffith thanked the community for supporting her family through all that time.

Elijah Penn

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Penn was charged with homicide, criminal attempted homicide, aggravated assault and recklessly endangering another person. He was arraigned before Magisterial District Judge Lindy Lane Sweeney on Thursday morning and is in York County Prison without bail.  

A preliminary hearing in Penn’s case is set for Jan. 19. 

The arrest came after not only months of police investigation but also four months of work by the York County Investigative Grand Jury. An investigative grand jury is an inquisitorial arm of the court that conducts its own investigation into all crimes within its jurisdiction and determines whether or not a crime has been committed and, if so, who committed it. 

Northern York County Police Chief Dave Lash speaks during a press conference Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, revealing an arrest in the murder of Justin Griffith. York County District Attorney Dave Sunday, left, and Justin's mother Chawna Griffith, left, also spoke at the press conference. Also on display was a picture of Justin.

“I do want to thank the nameless and faceless members of grand jury,” Chawna Griffith said. “They were brave enough to deliver for us when a lot of community members were scared, and that’s one step toward justice for Justin.” 

York County District Attorney Dave Sunday said that the grand jury took testimony from numerous witnesses and looked at evidence, including cellphone data location, that led to the arrest. 

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“This arrest is proof that law enforcement perseverance can overcome many obstacles in proving a murder case,” Sunday said.  

The basketball hoops on the courts at Cousler Park were removed for a period of time after the shooting death of Justin Griffith. Bill Kalina photo
(Photo: Bill Kalina, The York Dispatch)

Sunday said the secrecy under which the grand jury works, especially in homicide cases, allows it to get testimony that it may not ordinarily get in a more public setting and gets people to come forward who may not want to testify in court. 

“We have a duty to keep this community safe,” Sunday said. “As a result of that, we’re utilizing every single tool that is legally available to us to identify the facts and circumstances surrounding these murders.” 

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Sunday said Justin Griffith's killing was an act of gang violence, but Griffith wasn’t a target. There were many shots fired, he said, that resulted in Justin Griffith being shot in the back and the wounding of Donald Dent, who was shot in the leg but survived his injuries. 

“This incident not only deprived the Griffith family of a loved one, but it also stole the sense of safety and security from our communities,” Northern York County Regional Police Chief Dave Lash said. “Our actions today will hopefully bring relief to the family but also to the greater community.” 

Lash said the work of the 20 officers who responded to the scene the night of murder to preserve evidence and gain information was vital to eventually finding a suspect in Justin Griffith’s murder.  

Chawna Griffith also acknowledged the work of Northern York County Police Detective Stephen Lebo, who kept her abreast of what was going on in the investigation. 

“Never did I feel this police department fell asleep on Justin or forgot about us, and for that I am very grateful,” she said.