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Deadly shooting near Independence Mall leaves tourists unnerved

May 27, 2023

A line of tourists queued up outside the Liberty Bell Center to glimpse one of Philadelphia’s most iconic treasures. Nearby, a cluster of visitors encircled a guide who pointed across Chestnut Street and proudly proclaimed, “All the government offices in charge of Philadelphia in the 1790s, they all operated right here.” One after another, tourists stopped to take selfies in front of Independence Hall.

On Sunday afternoon, the day after a double shooting unfolded Saturday night just a few feet outside the boundary of Independence National Historical Park, a pair of blue latex gloves lay at the corner of Chestnut and Fifth Streets. The discarded medical gloves were the only sign of the previous evening’s gun violence.

According to police, a 29-year-old man was killed after he was shot twice on the right side of his torso at about 9 p.m. Saturday in the 100 block of Independence Mall East in Center City. Police officers transported the man to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 9:27 p.m. Later that evening, authorities learned of another man involved after he drove himself to Pennsylvania Hospital with a gunshot wound to his arm. As of late Sunday afternoon, authorities had not identified either man and reported no arrests as the investigation continued.

In an emailed statement on Sunday, Mayor Jim Kenney described the shooting as a “road-rage incident.”

“We are grateful to the Philadelphia Police Department who responded quickly to the situation and kept it from escalating,” Kenney stated. “Unfortunately, our country’s gun problem means disputes can turn deadly, cutting young lives short for no reason.”

Tracy O’Toole, chief of external affairs for the National Park Service, which operates the 75-year-old park, said the shooting followed “a verbal altercation.” The incident occurred “near Independence Hall,” though not inside the park’s jurisdiction.

“Visitor safety is of the utmost importance to the National Park Service,” O’Toole said in a statement on Sunday. “We strive to provide an exceptional and safe visitor experience for all people visiting Independence National Historic Site. Our law enforcement rangers conduct proactive patrols, and we closely coordinate with the Philadelphia Police Department.”

The shooting came just hours after a 39-year-old man was shot to death and two others were critically wounded late Saturday afternoon in a triple shooting in Kensington. The first shooting, just before 5 p.m., occurred on the 700 block of East Madison Street, not far from the intersection of Kensington and Allegheny Avenues in an area of the city that has experienced more gun violence than any other section of Philadelphia.

“Last night’s shooting in the Historic District, and the gun violence that occurred in Kensington, completely contradicts our nation’s and city’s founding beliefs — and our present-day aspirations,” said Kathryn Ott Lovell, president and chief executive officer of the Philadelphia Visitor Center Corporation, which operates the Independence Visitor Center.

She added in a statement Sunday that her organization “stands ready to support all efforts to ensure our city remains a safe and welcoming environment for our visitors, as well as for those who live and work here.”

Jamir Gates, 39, said he was standing outside Kimpton Hotel Monaco Philadelphia working as a parking valet at the corner of Fifth and Chestnut when he heard gunshots. Moments earlier, Gates said he saw a group of motorcycle riders whom he regularly sees cruise around the area on Saturday evenings. He said he believes one of the motorcycle riders got in an argument with a driver of a car.

“I don’t know who shot first, whether it was someone in the car or one of the motorcycle riders, but one motorcycle rider was killed,” Gates said. He said he believes someone in the car was shot and injured, and he saw the car take off. Federal and city police officers arrived quickly, he said.

At the time, Gates said he was giving directions to a customer when he heard “two pops” that he dismissed as fireworks. But when the pops continued, he realized the sound was gunfire, he said.

“Everybody dispersed and ran into the hotel and ran all kinds of ways,” said Gates, who lives in Northeast Philadelphia but grew up in Chester city. “Sadly I didn’t run because I’m sort of desensitized to it. If you grew up in a certain environment, you hear gunshots all the time, and it’s sad because I should have been in a panic and ran. I’m just so used to hearing it.”

Even so, Gates said he’s never before witnessed a shooting near Fifth and Chestnut. The area is heavily patrolled by park rangers, and federal and city police authorities, with security cameras all over.

“It couldn’t have been something organized or orchestrated,” Gates said. “It had to be something that happened in the heat of the moment. It’s a shame. It’s a shame that somebody lost their life and people had to take it to that extreme because of road rage. A lot of people are so quick to respond with violence.”

Monaco hotel guest Tim Allard said he and his wife were in their room when they heard “eight or nine shots.” They looked out the window and saw a man on the ground next to a motorcycle turned on its side. The couple, who live in Montana, were in Philadelphia to drop their 18-year-old daughter off at Temple University, where she is a freshman studying architecture. She was on Temple’s campus at the time, he said.

“It’s scary,” Allard said. “This certainly brings it home with the difficulty and separation from your child and you’re freeing them into the world, and you’re hoping the world is a little safer, and it seems like it’s a little more dangerous, when you look out your hotel window and see a man dead on the street.”

“That’s catastrophic, and it’s a sad state of affairs not only for Philadelphia, but for the country in general,” Allard said. “It’s a difficult thing to fathom.”

Allard, 53, said they took their daughter for breakfast Sunday morning at Knead Bagels on Walnut Street, near Seventh, before taking a tour of Independence Hall. They talked to her about being aware of her surroundings and “staying safe.” It made saying goodbye to his daughter on Sunday that much harder, he said.

“Honestly, I’m going to be scared every day,” he said as he waited in the hotel lobby for a ride to Philadelphia International Airport to catch a flight back to Montana.

Staff writer Anthony R. Wood contributed to this article.