Thirty-three individuals lost their lives at the hand of another in Delaware County in 2018, reflecting a 23 percent drop in comparison to the 43 homicides recorded in 2017.
Chester, the lone city in the county, had 11 fewer homicides in the same 12-month period - a 38 percent decrease – but continued to record the highest homicide toll of all 49 municipalities, with 18 deaths in 2017.
“One homicide is too many and we know and understand that,” Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland said. “Our goal is to continuously work to decrease the number of homicides that occur. That comes by way of good police work, good community relations and good parenting. We are reaching out to parents, to our religious community, and to others in helping us curb violence in our communities and we believe it is paying off.”
The drops in homicide rates appear to mirror a trend seen in a sampling of large cities across the country, with the exception of areas including Chicago, Ill., and Baltimore, Md., according to published reports.
But Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland, citing a disturbing comparison closer to home, said neighboring Philadelphia reportedly recorded 353 homicides in 2018 - a 12 percent increase over last year and the highest since 2007, she said.
“While we are pleased that the homicide rate has been reduced, both countywide and in the city of Chester, no amount of violence can be tolerated. Every single homicide is significant to me and any loss of life is unacceptable,” Copeland said. “That is why we spend a great deal of time and resources investigating each and every case and work on a daily basis to prevent crime from happening through initiatives like our recently launched DA DelCam community-based camera program. We are using technology to solve crimes, and work in the community, taking a holistic approach to crime that includes building trust and relationships. We know there is not one single action we can take, but instead we take a multi-pronged, proactive approach in an effort to have sustainable, long lasting results.
“We know that families are hurting, any many are fed up with violence in their own backyards,” she continued. “We will not give up and clearly neither will the community. As we work together to prevent crime, more individuals come forward, and homicides are being solved. As a result, we are seeing a change in the cycle of violence that has plagued communities and neighborhoods for decades.”
Last year, five deaths in Upper Darby were also ruled homicides, including the Jan. 16 death of Seifudden Collier that was ruled justified. Radnor recorded two homicides, including 50-year-old Alita Byrd who died on Feb. 1, and 33-year-old Meredith Chapman who died on April 23. Both women were gunned down in murder-suicide incidents. Byrd was shot by her son, while Chapman was shot by her boyfriend’s estranged wife. Darby Township, Chester Township, Aston, Yeadon, Trainer, Tinicum, Darby Borough and Colwyn each recorded one in 2018.
Copeland had been sworn in as the county’s top law enforcement officer less than two weeks when Darby Township authorities reported the Jan. 12, 2018, death of 27-year-old Jamie Carroll. Carroll’s body was found lying in the street. He had been shot in the head at close range. The investigation into his death remains ongoing.
The shooting death of Jahod Collier on Dec. 28 in Chester marked a close of deadly violence in the county for the year. His death, too, remains under investigation, according to Chester Police Chief James Nolan IV.
Of the 33 homicides in the county last year, the majority were firearm-related. All but one death in Chester was the result of a shooting.
“Whether it’s a bow and arrow, a gun or a sword, we are going to deal with it in the same way,” noted Nolan.
Copeland attributed the decrease in homicides, especially in Chester, to a pair of initiatives. The first is an Anti-Violence Strike Force whose members have been concentrating efforts on Sun Village, an area of the city with a high number of unsolved homicides.
After obtaining the funding for the program, Copeland reached out to Kirkland and Chester Police Commissioner Otis Blair. They joined with her, police chaplains and others, in going door-to-door making themselves and their commitments to the community known to residents.
Copeland said since September, “We’ve knocked on every door in Sun Village.” Their presence, she said, was well received.
“People were happy we were there,” she said.
Additionally, Copeland, Delaware County Criminal Investigation Chief Joseph Ryan and others, including Delaware County Community Service participants, have spent part of their Sundays since September doing “clean up” throughout Sun Village. They’ve removed trash and other items like a 60-inch TV that block alleyways or pathways, which allows people to hide or merely obscure full police view areas that can be used to stash guns, drugs or both.
“If we can keep the neighborhood clean, we can reduce crime, drug trafficking,” Copeland said.
Copeland said unmarked police cars have also patrolled Sun Village every single week.
“It has helped created a bond with the neighborhood,” Copeland said of the increase in police presence. “It lets people know we care and that we want to help.”
She also cited the DA DelCam initiative as a reason for the drop in homicides. The program offers an interactive way to fight crime by allowing homeowners and businesses to register their surveillance cameras systems online into the county’s new database.
Describing cameras as “a great overall tool to solve crime,” Copeland said, “Cameras also helps us to reduce crime and break the chain of violence.”
Through a combination of those alone, Copeland said investigators have started to develop leads in cases.
“People are feeling more comfortable talking to us … It’s been wonderful,” she said.
Since September, Copeland said the number of calls to police regarding shots fired and other violence in Sun Village have decreased.
“Our collaboration with the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office has been very helpful in our efforts,” said Nolan, who wholeheartedly agrees with Copeland’s assessment.
Additionally, Nolan said new strategies enacted by the Chester Police Department also factor into last year’s drop in homicides and other crime.
“We allocated manpower differently,” he said. “And as we increase manpower, we expect to have even better gains in the crime rate.”
Of the 18 homicides last year in Chester, cases involving victims Chadease Coleman, Devanna Cornitcher and Vincent Franklin were closed by arrests, Nolan said. A fourth case, the death of Tyler Reed-Knox, was closed by a justification ruling.
According to Nolan, investigators also made an arrest in 2018 involving the 2017 homicide of Shaquan Cruz-Chappell.
“I can’t stress enough how the mayor’s commitment to lowering the crime rate was instrumental in our 2018 results,” said Nolan.
According to Nolan, Kirkland met with police every Monday.
“He would go over where we were and what we were doing. He allowed us leeway to do our jobs,” he said.
According to Nolan, the city is set to hire seven officers on Monday, which will bring the total number of officers including top brass to 95.
Nolan is hopeful more officers will be hired throughout the year.
“My goal is 115 but I don’t know if we will get there,” he said.
The youngest of the victims
April was the most deadly of the 12-month period, claiming six lives. In addition Sullivan, those victims were 23-year-old Tyler Reed-Knox, 19-year-old McCray, 25-year-old Devanna Cornitcher and 28-year-old Jaquell Johnson.
Also, the April 16 death of 10-month-old Angeline Milano in Upper Darby, the county’s youngest victim in 2018, was ultimately ruled a homicide due to the ingestion of a derivative of fentanyl. Her parents, Joseph B. Milano, 31, and Lauren Semanyk, 34, face charges of third-degree murder and related offenses in her death.
Milano initially told officers that Angelina had drowned in the bathtub, but an autopsy showed that she had no water in her lungs, Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said at a press conference announcing her parents’ arrest in December, capping a seven-month investigation. A toxicology report indicated the child had ingested 3-Methylfentanyl, a chemical analog of the synthetic opioid fentanyl.
“Of the five homicides we had, three are resolved,” said Chitwood.“With a community of 100,000 people in eight square miles, it’s not a bad year if you look at the causation. But one is too many.”
For many of the victims countywide, family and friends turned to Facebook and other social media platforms to express condolences, offer prayers, and share remembrances.
The 2018 Toll
Chester : 18
Upper Darby: 5
Darby Township: 1
Chester Township: 1
Yeadon – 1
Darby Borough: 1
1. Jan. 12: Jamie Carroll, Darby Township
2. Jan. 16: Seifuddin Collier, (justified) Upper Darby
3. Jan. 23: Chadease Coleman, Chester
4. Jan.23: Brian Vick, Chester
5. Jan. 29: Chevin Goldsborough, Chester
6. Feb.1: Alita Byrd, Radnor
7. March 4: Jeffrey Smith, Chester
8. March 19: Emrika Smalls, Chester Township
9. April 1: Tyler Reed-Knox, (justified) Chester
10. April 4: Tyazha McCray, Chester
11. April 16: Angelina Milano, Upper Darby
12. April 20: Devanna Cornitcher, Chester
13. April 20: Jaquell Johnson, Chester
14. April 23: Meredith Sullivan, Radnor
15. May 2: Jeffrey
16. May 21: Vincent Franklin, Chester
17. June 23: Nathaniel Goldsborough-Bishop, Chester
18. June 27: Tyree Wilson, Upper Darby
19. July 7: Armand I. Fennell, Upper Darby
20. July13: Eric Lawson, Upper Darby
21. July 24: Lamont Lewis, Chester
22. Aug. 15: Kassim Brown, Chester
23. Aug. 23: Eric Flood, Chester
24. Aug. 27: Everett Wilson, Chester
25. Sept. 14: Robert Cault Jr., Yeadon
26. Sept. 22: Wayne Aultman, Chester
27. Sept. 25: Keith Jackson, Trainer
28. Sept. 27: Henry Hox, Tinicum
29. Oct.6: Jasmine
30. Oct. 20: Hassan Kodeem Noaks, Darby Borough
31. Nov. 3: Nicholas Steel, Chester
32. Nov. 17: Frank Powell, Colwyn
33. Dec. 28: Jahod Collier, Chester
Additional cases investigated by Delaware County Medical Examiner’s Office and included on its official record of homicides, but were not investigated by Delaware County police agencies, include Antonio Williams, who died May 13, and Kirk Williams, who died June 14.