Temple University President Jason Wingard (Philadelphia Tribune photo).
By Stephen Williams
PHILADELPHIA — Temple University president Jason Wingard said the school can’t solve the gun violence issue without help, a collaborative effort and more resources from the city, state and federal law enforcement.
On Saturday, Christopher Fitzgerald, a 31-year-old Temple policer officer, was shot and killed near 17th Street and Montgomery Avenue while pursuing a man suspected of robbery.
On Sunday morning, an 18-year-old Bucks County man was arrested at his family’s home and charged with the murder of Fitzgerald. It was the first time a Temple police officer was ever killed in the line of duty. In keeping with policy, the Capital-Star is not identifying the alleged shooter.
The Temple University community and city law enforcement community is grieving, along with the community that loved him, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said.
“Gun violence is a national epidemic,” Wingard said. “It’s ravishing Philadelphia. It’s destroying our communities. In North Philadelphia we are working extremely hard at Temple University to do everything we can to keep our students safe.”
But he admitted that it is not enough.
“We are advocating and allocating more resources and creating new initiatives but it’s not enough and we are not able to get it done, in spite of all those resources it’s not working,” Wingard said. “Our mission is to provide best in class teaching, learning and research. My job, my mandate is to provide a world class education for our 35,000-plus students. The truth is I can’t uphold my mandate. We can’t fulfill our mission if we cannot keep our students safe.”
Wingard made his comments on Tuesday morning during an emotional news conference at the Philadelphia Public Safety Building on North Broad Street.
Other speakers were Mayor Jim Kenney, Temple Public Safety Director Jennifer Griffin, Outlaw, Philadelphia Police Staff Inspector Ernest Ransom and District Attorney Larry Krasner.
“This city is shook and suffering because a really good person is gone,” Krasner said.
According to Wingard, Gov. Josh Shapiro and Mayor Jim Kenney have committed resources to help.
“Temple University can’t do this alone but together with partnership and collaboration I am confident that we will be able to get this done and keep our community safe,” Wingard said. “In the coming days we will share more about our coordinated plan and coordinated effort. We need to do more and we will do more.”
Kenney said there are still too many guns on the street and that the legislature should pass more gun control laws. He said it’s more difficult to buy liquor than guns.
Outlaw praised the coordination between Temple Police, Philadelphia Police, U.S. Marshals office, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); Delaware County SWAT Team and the city DA’s Office that made the swift arrest and subsequent charges possible.
Meanwhile, Ransom detailed how the incident transpired. Fitzgerald was in his patrol car when he observed three white males dressed in black with masks in the area near Montgomery Avenue, where several robberies and carjackings have occurred.
When the officer approached them on foot to investigate, they ran, Ransom said. Two of them, a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old ran in another direction, while Fitzgerald chased the alleged shooter. The officer announced the pursuit over his radio. They got into a scuffle and the accused pulled out a handgun and shot Fitzgerald and then stood over the officer and shot him three times in the face and torso.
The shooting was recorded on video.
Meanwhile, at the 22nd Police District at 17th Street and Montgomery Avenue, about a block from the shooting, police Cpl. Theresa Brooks heard Fitzgerald’s radio call and rushed to the scene, heard shots fired, saw the suspects running and detained them, Ransom said. Her swift actions allowed police to identify the alleged gunman.
Temple Police and other officers arrived at Fitzgerald’s side within minutes and transferred him to Temple University Hospital where he died at 7:27 p.m.
The alleged gunman carjacked a vehicle by pointing a gun at the driver and threatening to kill him, Ransom said. He then visited his father, who lives in North Philadelphia, and called his mother to get a ride to Bucks County.
Asked by reporters why Fitzgerald was alone in a patrol car, Griffin said that was a normal occurrence as a result of staffing shortages that affect city police and departments across the nation.
“There are more retirements and attrition, than applicants,” Griffin said.
It was announced that Temple Police will now patrol in pairs in the wake of the shooting, but Griffin said that will cut the number of campus cars on patrol.
“One of the challenges with moving to a two-officer car is now you reduce the number of vehicles on campus and around the area. So, as opposed to having 10 cars out there with officers or whatever the deployment number would be, you reduce that by half,” she said.
“Today we remember the sacrifice of Christopher Fitzgerald, his family and our colleagues,” Wingard said. “We have the whole Temple community behind you.”
Stephen Williams is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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