By Brian Saunders
PHILADELPHIA — City Councilmember Curtis Jones Jr. took the floor during this week’s virtual City Council meeting to urge people to speak up if someone they know is going through a mental health crisis.
Jones’ remarks come in the aftermath of Monday’s Thomas Jefferson University Hospital shooting, which left one man dead and two Philadelphia police officers wounded.
“Last week, we all looked in horror as an individual entered Jefferson Hospital and took the life of another worker there,” Jones said. “We have to fight and continue to fight against gun violence.”
According to Jones, the man who allegedly committed the shootings last week had his weapons taken away from him after an apparent mental health crisis. But then he got them right back.
Stacey Hayes, 55, was charged Tuesday with murder, attempted criminal homicide, aggravated assault, assault on law enforcement, firearms crimes and related offenses in the attack that killed Anrae James, 43, police said.
It’s unclear whether Hayes has an attorney who could respond to the charges.
Hayes was wearing scrubs when he shot James, of Elkins Park, on the ninth floor of the hospital just after midnight Monday, authorities allege. James, a nursing assistant, was pronounced dead shortly after 1 a.m. Monday. Early media reports said Hayes was a nurse or nursing assistant, but the hospital has not confirmed his job description.
The gunman fled in a box truck, and just before 1:30 a.m. Monday police responded to a report of gunfire in West Philadelphia’s Parkside neighborhood near the School of the Future on the edge of Fairmount Park.
Police found the suspect in body armor and with weapons including a rifle and a handgun, police said. He opened fire, and four officers returned fire, critically wounding him in the upper body and neck, police said.
Jones spearheaded the “red flag law” passed in November 2019, allowing people in a mental health crisis to have their weapons taken away to protect themselves and anyone else. In addition, the law enables citizens to petition for the seizure of guns from anyone posing as a public threat. All firearms have to be surrendered within 24 hours of the protection order. The person can then go to court to argue for the return of their guns.
“If somebody tells you that ‘I’m a danger’ on Monday, we should believe them on Tuesday. And take steps on Wednesday to safeguard them from themselves and protect the community from them. So we have to use the tools on our tool belt, ‘red flag laws,’ that can protect us from individuals who are often crying out for help,” Jones said.
Police can’t be everywhere and Jones said community members need to speak up before something happens.
The city of Philadelphia, like many other cities across the nation, has a gun violence crisis. According to the City Controller’s Office, there have been 426 homicides in Philadelphia this year. This is 16% higher than at this point in 2020. The data also shows 1,445 non-fatal shootings.
“Some things we can’t predict and some things we can’t prevent,” Jones said. “There are other clear signs where we can step up to the plate, take the laws that are on the books and use them for public safety.”
Brian Saunders is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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