Early on the morning of July 2, the 1600 block of South 56th Street in southwest Philadelphia erupted with the sound of gunfire. It was so loud that Zahirah Muhammad threw himself under his bed. “I didn’t know if it was coming from the back street behind me or in front of me,” she recalled in an interview.
But a woman across the street knew. Around midnight, she saw a man dressed in black standing at the door of Joseph Wamah’s house. The man at the door loudly announced he was the police, then the sheriff, she said, and then he opened fire. The man burst through the door, she remembered; more shots rang out, and soon after the man ran out of the house and down the street.
The woman waited for the police to arrive, assuming neighbors would call 911. But more than an hour passed. So she called 911 herself, she said, and told everything to the dispatcher who answered.
But police never showed up.
On Monday, police officials in Philadelphia explained how the apparent error by a 911 dispatcher that morning meant the fatal shooting on South 56th Street was not known to authorities until the following night. By then, the man now suspected of killing Mr. Wamah had already committed one of the city’s deadliest mass shootings.
As police first revealed Sunday evening, after the 911 call early on 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 in a different police district As the police would later determine, Mr. Wamah was killed by the man who broke in the door. And the man charged in Mr. Wamah’s death is Kimbrady Carriker, who prosecutors said stalked the neighborhood the next evening wearing a mask and body armor, firing his assault-style rifle wildly and killing four people.
Arrested soon after, Mr. Carriker, 40, was charged with murder and other offenses and is now being held without bond.
The city’s police commissioner, Danielle M. Outlaw, said at a press conference that the discovery of the error “compounds the tragedy that has already occurred” and that it is under administrative investigation.
But she insisted that even if police had turned up at the correct address on July 2, Mr Wamah would probably have been dead by now. It was also not clear, she added, whether police could have prevented the massacre the next day. Although investigators have since obtained video footage of the shooter entering Mr. Wamah’s house, the man in the video was masked, officials said. They were able to link Mr Wamah’s killing to Mr Carriker by matching the shell casings at the scene to the gun Mr Carriker was carrying when he was arrested on July 3.
“While it may have given us an investigative lead, the likelihood of cutting that off or cutting off what happened next, we just don’t know,” Ms Outlaw said.
In the neighborhood, many were unconvinced. Even if the police had not immediately arrested Mr. Carriker, some said, they would have noticed that there was a killer in the neighborhood.
“They definitely could have prevented this,” 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, the city of Philadelphia, has failed me.”
The woman, who said she called 911, identifying herself only as Nadirah in an interview Monday, said she made two calls and that at one point someone else, identified by police as a supervisor, called, asking her to confirm. the address But the confusion continued. The person on the phone told her officers were there, she said, 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 standing open when she spoke to 911. It was closed later that morning, she said.
At the news conference, Deputy Commissioner Frank Vanore explained how police later pieced together what happened. After the shooting on July 3, a family member went to check on Mr. Wamah and notified police after finding his body. While police initially did not know when Mr. Wamah was killed, they found the 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 doctor concluded that Mr. Wamah had died long before the other victims of the mass shooting. Several people on the street also told detectives about the shooting early on July 2. The police looked at camera footage from Mr. Wamah’s house early Sunday morning, and they saw what the 911 caller reported: a man firing a gun and then entering the house.
Although the killing of Mr Wamah on July 2 appears to have been more targeted than the erratic shooting the following night, Mr Vanore said investigators had not yet found a prior relationship between Mr Wamah and Mr Carriker.
Mrs. Outlaw insisted that it was impossible to say how things might have turned out if officers had been sent to the correct address. However, she said, concerns about Mr Carriker could be raised by people who knew him, and who told police he had been acting erratically in the days before the massacre.
“We know there were some who were around the suspect before this happened who could potentially report some of the information that was known to them,” she said. “Maybe this could prevent this from happening. But, even then, we don’t know.”