Mother of man murdered outside Hellam Twp. bar urges lawmakers to pass public safety reform

Pearl Wise
Lower Windsor Township
Chad Merrill, 25, was fatally shot outside a bar in Hellam Township Saturday, July 21, according to police. Photo courtesy of GoFundMe.

Like so many mothers who have lost a child to gun violence, my heart breaks every time I read about another mother whose child was killed.

I wish I could wrap my arms around every mother who goes through this pain and tell her what I’ve learned in the years since my son, Chad Merrill, was shot and killed: Life will never feel normal again. But with time and community, it’s possible to recover from the trauma and find meaning in sharing your heartbreak to demand change.

In 2018, my son was senselessly murdered during an evening out. In that instant, the life I knew became unrecognizable. I lost income from being unable to work and dug into my savings to bury him with dignity. Now, I’m raising his son, who was just five-months-old when he died, and doing everything I can to make sure that others have the support they need to recover from post-traumatic stress that comes after being impacted by violence. 

More:Police: Shooter used racial slurs, was kicked out of bar before homicide

More:Life sentence for 'absolutely senseless' murder outside Hellam Twp. bar

More:Crime victims advocacy organization opening York chapter

After a devastating act of violence, it can sometimes take years to recoup from the mental and financial toll of the trauma. Without help, the impacts sometimes lead to addiction, homelessness and more.    

That’s why we need our lawmakers to improve support for crime victims and prioritize public safety by passing the Safer Pennsylvania Act. 

The Safer Pennsylvania Act is a comprehensive approach to improving public safety by advancing a number of solutions that strengthen communities through six pieces of legislation. Sponsored by Representatives Natalie Mihalek, Shelby Labs, Wendi Thomas, Tracy Pennycuick and Meghan Schroeder, the Safer Pennsylvania Act includes bills to help crime victims maintain their housing and employment after experiencing violence as well as provide better access to support from the Commonwealth’s victims compensation program. 

Pearl Wise talks about her son Chad Merrill, who was murdered after standing up for his African American friend at a bar, during the 8th annual MLK Sunday Supper at Lincoln Charter School, Sunday, January 19, 2020,
John A. Pavoncello photo

The package of public safety reforms also includes a bill that would increase and incentivize rehabilitation programs for some Pennsylvanians in state prison to prepare them for reentry and reduce the chances of them reoffending. Together, the reforms aim to prevent crime and address the trauma of crime victims in communities left behind by the current system. 

Given the record spike in violence over the past two years, our communities desperately need these solutions. 

Violence is a traumatic experience for nearly everyone touched by it. For many survivors, the trauma is worsened by significant challenges associated with recovery. A lack of protections for victims and excessive barriers to eligibility for the state’s victim compensation program has left many Pennsylvania survivors of crime to choose between their physical or emotional safety and the long-term financial consequences of losing their job or relocation for safety reasons. It’s a choice that they shouldn’t have to make. 

At the same time, Pennsylvania must prioritize ways to reduce recidivism and make crime survivors feel safe. We can do this by making sure that people are prepared to reenter their communities with the skills that they need for employment and having received mental support through rehabilitation. This is especially important for people with learning disabilities who face additional barriers to success and opportunity, which make them more likely to become incarcerated in the first place. 

By prioritizing both support for crime victims and solutions to reduce recidivism, Pennsylvania’s public safety will improve - helping to decrease violence and strengthen communities through and through. 

No matter the race, gender or age, everyone wants to feel safe. It’s something that we can all agree on. And although people may have different opinions on how violence can be prevented, the solution must include support for those who were most impacted by it. 

After so much violence and heartbreak throughout the pandemic, it’s time to get serious about improving public safety. Lawmakers have the power to do this by passing common sense solutions as part of the Safer Pennsylvania Act. 2022 can be a new start for us all. 

— Pearl Wise is a York-based crime survivor and member of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.