Early in the morning of July 2, the 1600 block of South 56th Street in Southwest Philadelphia exploded with the sound of gunfire. It was so strong that Zahirah Muhammad threw himself under her bed. « I didn’t know if she came from the back street behind me or in front of me, » she recalled in an interview.
But a woman across the street knew. About midnight she had seen a man dressed in black standing at the door of Joseph Wamah’s home. The man at the door loudly announced that it was the police, then the sheriff, he said, and then opened fire. The man broke down the door, he recalled; more gunshots rang out and shortly after the man ran out of the house and into the street.
The woman waited for the police to arrive, assuming the neighbors would call 911. But it’s been over an hour. So she called 911 herself, she said, and told the dispatcher everything, which she answered.
But the police never showed up.
On Monday, Philadelphia police officials explained how the apparent mistake of a 911 operator that morning meant that the deadly gunfire on South 56th Street was not known to authorities until the next night. By then, the man now suspected of killing Mr. Wamah had already carried out one of the deadliest mass shootings in the city.
As police first revealed Sunday evening, after calling 911 early in the morning of July 2, a dispatcher sent officers to the wrong address: North 56th Street instead of South 56th Street, which is three miles away. distance in a different police precinct. As the police would later establish, Mr. Wamah was killed by the man who had broken in the door. And the man charged in Mr. Wamah’s death is Kimbrady Carriker, who prosecutors say stalked the neighborhood the next evening wearing a mask and bulletproof vest, firing wildly with her assault rifle and killing four people.
Arrested shortly after, Mr Carriker, 40, was charged with murder and other offenses and is now being held without bail.
City Police Commissioner Danielle M. Outlaw said in a news conference that the discovery of the mistake « compounds the tragedy that had already occurred » and that it was under an administrative investigation.
But he insisted that even if police showed up at the right address on July 2, Mr Wamah would likely be dead by now. It also wasn’t clear, he added, whether the police would be able to prevent the massacre the next day. Although investigators have since obtained video footage of the shooter entering Mr. Wamah’s home, the man in the video was masked, officials said. They were able to link Mr. Wamah’s killing to Mr. Carriker by matching shell casings at the scene to the gun Mr. Carriker was carrying when he was arrested on July 3rd.
« While it may have given us an investigative lead, the likelihood of stopping it or disrupting what happened next, we just don’t know, » Ms. Outlaw said.
In the neighborhood, many weren’t convinced. Even if police hadn’t arrested Mr. Carriker immediately, some said, they would have been alerted that there was a killer in the neighborhood.
“They definitely could have prevented it,” said Nyshyia Thomas, 34, whose 15-year-old son, Dajuan Brown, was killed in the July 3 mass shooting. “I feel like the Police Department, City of Philadelphia, has let me down.
The woman who said she called 911, identifying herself only as Nadirah in an interview on Monday, said she made two calls and that at one point someone else, identified by police as a supervisor, had called, asking her to confirm the address. But the confusion persisted. The person on her phone told her there were officers, she told her, but she didn’t see anyone.
« If they had come, they would have found him, » she said, speaking of Mr Wamah, whose front door was still open when she spoke to 911. It closed later that morning, he said.
At the press conference, Deputy Commissioner Frank Vanore explained how police ultimately pieced together what happened. After the July 3 shooting, a family member went to check on Mr. Wamah and notified the police after finding his body. Although police initially did not know when Mr. Wamah was killed, they found evidence linking him to Mr. Carriker and considered Mr. Wamah to be the fifth victim of the mass shooting.
But in the days that followed, the coroner concluded that Mr. Wamah had died much earlier than the other victims of the mass shooting. Several people on the street also told detectives about the shootings early on July 2. Police watched camera footage of Mr. Wamah’s home early Sunday morning and saw what the person who called 911 had reported: a man firing a handgun and then entering the home.
Although Mr. Wamah’s killing on July 2 appears to have been more targeted than the irregular shooting the following night, Mr. Vanore said investigators have yet to find any prior links between Mr. Wamah and Mr. Carriker.
Ms Outlaw insisted that it was impossible to tell how things might have played out differently if the agents had been sent to the right address. However, she said, concerns about Mr Carriker may have been raised by people who knew him who told police he had acted erratically in the days leading up to the massacre.
« We know there were some who were around the suspect, before this happened, who maybe could have relayed some of the information that was known to them, » he said. “Maybe that could have prevented that from happening. But, even then, we don’t know.