Anger and frustration shade the faces of Ivory Bethune and Schaine Isaac as they discuss the text messages between their son, Khyrie Isaac, and the man they believe took part in a brazen ambush that killed the 18-year-old and his girlfriend in the parking lot of a North Philadelphia grocery store in August 2021, an hour after the messages were sent.
Magdalena Rice clings to hope that a wallet police found inside a car in which her son, Konyae, 18, and two friends were seated when they were gunned down in March 2022, will shed light on the triple murder. The wallet did not belong to her son nor the other victims, she said.
Sonya Owens fights to contain her rage when she speaks of the men who she believes fatally shot her son, Daquan Owens, 25, last August.
“They know every person that played every part in my son’s murder — every single person,” Owens said of city homicide detectives. “I gave them the address of where they keep the guns.”
Despite the tips and clues these parents say they’ve gathered and passed along to police, no one has been arrested for the killings of their children. The frustration and anger they live with as their cases grow cold is shared by a growing population of Philadelphians. In a city that has suffered more than 500 homicides in each of the past two years, city law enforcement officials said in April that they have warrants for the arrests of just 59 fugitives wanted for murder. Less than half of the slayings in each of three years have resulted in arrests.
To arrest more homicide fugitives, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, Philadelphia Police Department and Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office have formed a new partnership to solicit help from the public to find those named in the warrants.
But relatives of some homicide victims interviewed for this article greeted news of the partnership with skepticism based on their experiences interacting with the Police Department. Their phone calls frequently go unanswered and their tips have not led to arrests, they said.
Starting in late March, District Attorney Larry Krasner has brought homicide detectives and Sheriff Rochelle Bilal to his weekly news conferences, where he has released the names, pictures, and crime details of 19 fugitives. They’ll release the remaining 40 names at subsequent meetings, officials said.
The fugitives include Marcus Whitehead, wanted for the August killing of a 26-year-old man who was in Philadelphia for the memorial service of a friend who had been the victim of gun violence; and Nathaniel Thomas, wanted for the killing of a 34-year-old man during a carjacking last September 11.
While a growing number of news agencies recently have stopped posting mugshots because they believe that the images stigmatize those who have been arrested but not convicted, Krasner said the partners’ use of them is for “specific and appropriate investigative” purposes.
“We’re asking the public to help in identifying, locating, and arresting these individuals,” Krasner said. “We’re also asking these individuals to understand that it does not get better if they remain fugitives. It only gets worse.”
The fugitives “live in our neighborhoods” and “are among us,” Bilal said. “We will go anywhere to get them. So, if you are harboring them, or they’re at your house, or you’re at their house, we are coming for them. If you don’t want us knocking at your door…then tell us where they are.”
Lieutenant Hamilton Marshmond, of the Police Department’s Homicide Unit said, “It’s important that the families of our decedents know that we have not forgotten them, and we are still actively investigating and doing everything we can to apprehend these individuals.”
‘A tough pill’
Told of the city law enforcement officials’ new partnership to catch homicide fugitives, some relatives of victims expressed pessimism, pointing to the Police Department’s shaky track record of solving homicides.
“The system is all bullshit. Fifty-nine warrants is a laughingstock. I don’t know what and how we can help them — we try,” said Isaac. “But there’s no giving help to someone that doesn’t want to do nothing with it.”
“How [are there] only 59 fugitives and thousands of murders?” Rice asked. “Our children’s killers are still out there, and some of us know who they are and they still walk the streets. How does that make sense?”
“All this fugitive stuff — when I tell you I’m not feeling it, I’m not feeling it,” said Owens. “They know who shot my son, they know who stabbed my son, they know who set my son on fire.”
She said a detective assigned to the case told her, “Right now, the ball’s just not rolling.”
For Eric and Leslie Beauregard, word of renewed emphasis from authorities to catch homicide fugitives stirred mixed emotions. It’s been seven months since their son, Everett, 23, was fatally shot just feet from his University City apartment — a crime caught on video and which shocked the city in part due to its seeming randomness.
As Everett, a recent Temple University political science graduate, walked past a man dressed in black with most of his face hidden behind a mask, the man stopped, turned around, and shot him in the back of the head. There was no argument. No robbery. No arrest.
“My focus is on honoring him, remembering him. Because, honestly, I don’t feel optimistic about catching this person at all,” Leslie Beauregard said.
“We heard that a lot of these cases don’t get solved, and there’s no information, like with our son’s case,” said her husband. “And that’s a tough pill.”
Still, Leslie Beauregard said she was hopeful that the new law enforcement partnership would achieve its goal. “To me, collaboration is always better. So, I feel like if that’s what’s happening — and I feel like it is — that everyone is working together and things are streamlined and more efficient, then that’s always a good thing.”
Among the community organizations that have signed on to the law enforcement partnership is the Fathership Foundation Inc., a Southwest Philadelphia-based nonprofit that provides adults with workforce development training.
Foundation CEO Dr. Jonathan Wilson, who was paralyzed from the waist down when his salon was robbed in 2011, implored fugitives to turn themselves in. “Get it over with. Get the drama finished, and I guarantee you, you got my word, I can guarantee you a softer landing than if they catch you out here without turning yourself in.”
‘A time in Philly where it’s scary’
Krasner conceded that the city needs to do more to identify and catch homicide suspects. Cities across the country, he said, are experiencing similar problems with fugitives. “Nationally, only 4 percent of police funding goes toward solving homicides,” he said. “Why isn’t that 4 percent 20 percent? These are the crimes that tear apart society in the worst kind of way.”
Philadelphia’s police made arrests in 48.8 percent of homicide cases in the last year, while for homicides committed with guns that number dipped to 43 percent, according to data provided by the Philadelphia Police Department.
Philadelphia needs to provide more funding to hire police and prosecutors, Krasner said, and for forensics to analyze cell phones and videos. He noted that his office Is handling a record 680 open homicide cases, because of the gun violence crisis, cases that backed up during the COVID-19 shutdown, and eight judge vacancies in the Court of Common Pleas, where homicide cases are tried.
In Philadelphia, Shootings Are Starting to Slow — Except Among Kids and Teens
“A lot of these investigations, all we need is that one little break,” said Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore, who heads the Homicide and Non-Fatal Shooting Unit. She noted that the task of identifying suspects caught on video became harder in recent years with so many people wearing COVID-19 masks.
“We’re close on a lot of jobs, except we need that person to ID,” Pescatore said. “We need to know who it is in that hoodie. Whose wearing that mask?”
While asking for the public’s help, the officials cautioned members of the community not to confront a suspected fugitive because of the obvious inherent danger. “I understand what it’s like for a victim or a witness not to want to come forward because they’re afraid for their lives. We’re living in a time in Philly where it’s scary. I’m scared,” said Melany Nelson, director of the D.A.’s CARES Unit, which provides support and services to relatives of homicide victims and witnesses.
“If you know some information, think about that mother who lost her child. Think about that father who lost his child,” she said. “We have to get the shooters off the streets, but your safety is our Number One priority.”
As authorities investigate and await tips on the whereabouts of homicide fugitives, some parents of children whose killers have not been named said they feel forgotten by detectives who don’t return their phone calls, and a city where most killers are never caught.
Tahirah Moore said the streets are talking about the murder of her son, Khallid. Unofficial sources have told her that the killer is now in jail charged with four additional killings. The detective assigned to the case will only say that there are no leads, she said, fighting back tears.
“He was in college. He was on break. He was playing basketball. A good kid, never been in trouble. I took my time with my kids. I raised my kids,” she said. “But it doesn’t matter if it was a good kid or a bad kid. We’re all in this situation together and the cops are not doing nothing.
“I’m just hopeless. Everything is dark.”