WILLIAMSPORT – Are city streets and neighborhoods safe? Most residents aren’t so sure.
Fifty percent of more than 400 people surveyed by On the PULSE said they are afraid to walk down their street.
Forty percent said Williamsport is usually safe, and the remaining 10% claimed it is very safe and the recent violence is out of the ordinary.
Given the recent uptick in violent crime, including four shootings and three deaths, the city is on edge. But Williamsport Police Chief Damon Hagan said a heightened public paranoia is to be expected.
“You always get that after something like this,” he said. “And then it dies down.”
Hagan gave his word that city residents are safe, mentioning that the state police are doing extra patrols and other Regional police departments are providing support as well.
The string of shootings began on July 17 with the death of Kerry Young and subsequent standoff and suicide of the shooter Thomas Matthews III. On July 28 a juvenile was shot on Almond Street and on July 30 another juvenile was shot and killed on Market Street. The most recent shooting was the August 4 armed robbery at the Uni-Mart on West Fourth Street, resulting in the death of Rhonda McPeak and the wounding of another victim.
With the arrest of Ikeem Damont Fogan, 21, of Williamsport, Hagan said there is no evidence that city residents are in danger of future random acts of violence.
Raphael MnKandhla, pastor of City Church, moved to Williamsport from Dallas, Texas, a city not unfamiliar with violent crime.
“All this stuff used to happen (in Dallas) every day,” he said. “I think (Williamsport) is a great place to raise a family, but obviously since there’s people, there’s always going to be problems.”
Creating safe streets is a job for the community, MnKandhla said. He stressed the importance of seeing everyone as human and building a culture of love – “fighting to see everyone thrive.” He stressed action and involvement in solutions.
“The common foundation that we have is humanity,” he said, adding that it’s up to the community members to build a safe culture for themselves, and family and friends.
Jim Stabley, McPeak’s brother-in-law, made an appearance at the city’s recent press conference after the shootings. A life-long resident of Williamsport, Stabley called for preventative measures as a way to curb violent crime.
His wife also works at a convenience store and after the recent death of his sister-in-law he now pleads with her to quit.
“I don’t really feel like burying another wife,” said Stabley, whose first wife died of a heart attack.
Peace walks and prayer vigils have brought the community together over the past week, providing a time to mourn and reflect.
At a vigil at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church on Market Street, locals called for a community of peace, support and understanding throughout the city.
They prayed for the victims, first responders and family members, as well as the shooting victims from the recent El Paso and Ohio shootings, which left dozens dead and injured.