Police: Slaying Witnessed by State Rep. Candidate Result of Neighborhood Beef

In the span of four hours, police had two murders in the same Cedarbrook neighborhood.

Homicide Captain James Clark (left) discuss a murder witnessed by political candidate Chris Rabb (right).

Homicide Captain James Clark (left) discusses a murder witnessed by state representative candidate Chris Rabb (right).

Little by little, the sidewalk in front of a patch of weathered storefronts and takeout shops in Cedarbrook filled up Monday afternoon with middle-aged guys who used to call the neighborhood home.

It was a reunion of sorts, the kind they all hated to have. This little stretch of Vernon Road, sandwiched in between Fayette Street and Michener Avenue, was the stage for two murders on Sunday. The men came to commiserate over the way things are today — one shooting followed by another and then another — and the way they used to be.

The first slaying gained the most attention because it was witnessed by Chris Rabb, a Democratic candidate for state representative. Rabb and a campaign worker had a brief discussion around 3:30 p.m. with Alex Cherry, 21, who talked about wanting to work the polls during Tuesday’s primary election.

Homicide Capt. James Clark said a 6-foot-tall black man in a gray hoodie simply walked up to Cherry and put a bullet in his head. The gunman started to walk away, but stopped to hover over Cherry for a moment. He squeezed the trigger a few more times, then fled. Medics pronounced Cherry dead at the scene. A law enforcement source said a grief-stricken man who appeared to be a relative of Cherry’s loudly offered a $20,000 reward for the gunman when he reached Vernon Road.

Rabb, an adjunct professor at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, recounted his conversation with Cherry in a statement on Sunday night. “We made a connection with him. He was looking forward to working at his local polling place on Tuesday,” Rabb said. “This impressed us and we were in the process of encouraging him to join our campaign. Moments after he gave us his contact information, he was murdered. He had his whole life in front of him.”

Cherry lived on a nearby block of Temple Road. Four hours after he was gunned down, police were called to his street for a report of gunshots. When cops arrived, they were told to go back to the same stretch of Vernon where Cherry had been shot. They found 18-year-old Elijah Frazier inside a Chinese takeout shop, with a bullet wound in his back. He died a short while later at Einstein Medical Center. A 17-year-old boy also turned up on Michener Avenue with a graze wound to his head.

There was no description of the shooter in this incident; witnesses said someone emerged from an SUV and began firing into a crowd. “What we know is there’s an ongoing dispute between two groups of young men,” Clark said. “We’re trying to get a hold on the players. My understanding is that both of the victims were part of the group in that area.”

The other group of warring young men is from East Germantown, the source said.

“As a father raising two young men, I am heartbroken,” Rabb said. “Yet, no matter how traumatic today’s events were for me, it pales in comparison to the devastation these young men’s families are now enduring. My condolences go out to the families of the young people caught up in this violence.”

The former neighborhood guys talked about how different things were when they were kids, how families were whole and teenagers weren’t running around putting bullets in each other. “We came out spontaneously. Word just travels,” said Herman Davis, the CEO of Peace+Love, an anti-violence organization. “Families are broke. Crack broke our families up. From there, it’s been an ongoing cycle.”

A couple of patrol cops huddled across from the shops on Vernon Road, keeping an eye out for another wave of violence. Davis, 45, pointed out his childhood home, then noted that he had long since moved away. His old friends kicked around ideas for making the neighborhood safer. How could they convince the local kids to make smarter life choices, to try and build a better future for themselves?

“What do you expect? They can’t find jobs. There’s no after school stuff for them,” Davis said. “You take everything away from the community, and when they react to what you took away, it’s like, ‘What the fuck is wrong with them?’ Well, what do you expect?”

Follow @dgambacorta on Twitter.