UPPER DARBY – A man’s early-morning shooting spree left his girlfriend dead, commuters stranded, and much of 69th Street locked down through the Thursday morning rush hour.
The havoc started around 3:30 a.m. when the man, whom police have not yet identified, got into a domestic fight with the woman in an apartment in the 7000 block of Terminal Square.
After shooting the woman dead, the suspect stormed out of the apartments. He moved towards 69th Street and shot a passerby in the shoulder along Market Street. That victim suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
“We believe that he exited that apartment and engaged anyone that he could,” Upper Darby Police Superintendent Tim Bernhardt later told reporters.
Anthony Watkins, who lives on the first floor of the apartment building, recounted hearing multiple gunshots.
“I heard at least seven shots,” Watkins said. “I looked out the window and saw a bunch of cops outside. I wanted to come out but (I thought that’s) not a good idea.”
Watkins said he would usually be coming home at that time but was off from work and watching television.
“I’m glad I wasn’t coming home. I could have become involved.” he said. “It was right outside.”
Watkins said he heard yelling before the shooting but said that is not unusual. But when he heard the shots, he knew something was wrong.
“After the first seven shots, I heard 10-15 after that. It shocked me because usually we don’t have that around this area. It hits really close to home. Usually I hear about that stuff deep into Philly. It’s crazy.”
After waving his gun in the air wildly and shooting the passerby, the man encountered SEPTA Transit Police officers at the 69th Street Transportation Center. They had heard the gunfire and responded.
A shootout ensued near the passenger overpass; it left multiple bullet holes in the windshield of a police car and broken windows at a bus stand. Officers cornered the suspect and placed him in custody at 69th and Ludlow streets.
Nobody was hit in that flurry of shots, all of them fired before dawn. However, daylight would show numerous police evidence markers where shell casings landed on what would normally be a crowded transportation hub in rush hour.
“The quick and heroic action taken by SEPTA Transit Police officers at 69th Street Transportation Center this morning prevented an already tragic situation from potentially claiming more lives and serious injuries,” said SEPTA Police Chief Thomas J. Nestel III. “SEPTA officers are assigned to 69th Street during the overnight hours to keep it secure for riders who are using transit service, and for the employees who are helping people get to their destinations. SEPTA remains committed to strategically deploying Transit Police officers in a manner that provides a clear visible deterrence for would-be criminals, and allows for fast responses when incidents do occur.”
Police were on edge through the morning as they tried to determine that no one else was involved in the shooting. About 8:30 a radio report brought numerous additional officers rushing to the apartment building at Terminal Square however the tension eventually died down.
The chaos left Market Street, 69th Street, and the front of the Transportation Center closed until afternoon. Commuters struggled to make their way through the maze of yellow police tape and closed roads.
SEPTA officials had numerous staff guide commuters to buses that were loading at Victory Avenue and West Chester Pike while operations inside the terminal building were able to continue.
Traffic on West Chester Pike snaked through the streets trying to find a way around the mess, while pedestrians meandered through alleys to get to their destinations. Evidence of the shooting stretched for blocks from the apartment to the terminal.
Among those impacted were the many Upper Darby students and staff who rely on mass transportation to get to school. The district alerted students and families on social media of the incident. The district said late-arriving students would be excused for tardiness and if they were unable to reach school, they could attend virtually.
Police have not released the name of the suspect or his victim. A press conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday with District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer and Bernhardt to discuss the filing of charges.
By 1:30 p.m., as the Medical Examiner arrived to remove the body of the victim, things were returning to normal. The scourge of gun violence, however, left a mark on many.
“I think it’s awful,” said Tahirah Waliyyudbia, who lives on the top floor of the building. She was asleep when the shooting began. “Even though it is so close to 69trh Street, it is a well-kept and very nice building. I’m a little scared right now, and I’m a Philly girl. This is a little daunting.”