JOHNSTOWN, Pennsylvania – Their names are Jaydin Sanderson, Terrell Green, Timothy Harrison, Gianna Lewis-Rice, Edward West and Raheem Brantley – the victims of six Johnstown homicides so far this year.
Three of them, including 14-month-old baby Gianna, were killed within four days.
Five non-fatal shootings also occurred in the city of around 18,400 in the first three months of 2022.
Law enforcement and city officials gathered Wednesday morning for a press conference, hoping to reassure Johnstown residents about public safety and calling on them to provide information that could lead to justice for the victims.
“This violence must stop now,” Johnstown Police Department Chief Richard Pritchard said.
Councilman Ricky Britt lamented the recent deaths saying: “It’s a shame with what’s going on there, with these people killing people like flies. No more respect for life. It’s going to get worse, but we’re going to step up, do what we have to do.
Cambria County Coroner Jeffrey Lees succinctly said he was “very concerned”.
Pritchard proposed an initiative that included street-level activities such as K-9 units marching in targeted areas at night and surveillance.
“We will be taking several proactive steps, which we will not discuss at this time as they are investigative in nature,” Pritchard said.
Donations will be accepted to help fund the initiatives. For example, the Johnstown Chapter of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows donated $500 to the department. Public money will also be used.
“The city will ensure these initiatives are funded,” City Manager Ethan Imhoff said.
The money could be allocated for the short and long term, according to Imhoff.
“We’re going through the budgeting process here for 2023 this summer,” Imhoff said. “That’s when the budgeting process will begin. Certainly, the initiatives of the chief and the initiatives of the police department will be considered in these conversations, and we will seek to find the financial resources to ensure that the police department has the resources it needs to do the job.
Imhoff, Pritchard, Lees and Britt were joined by Cambria County District Attorney Gregory Neugebauer, Mayor Frank Janakovic and Deputy City Manager Alex Ashcom, as well as City Council members Reverend Sylvia King, Marie Mock , Laura Huchel and Charles Arnone.
Officials called for a unified crime-fighting effort from multiple local, state and federal law enforcement departments; groups such as Cambria County Crime Stoppers, which offers a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for an unsolved homicide; and residents of Johnstown.
“At the end of the day, sometimes the most important help comes from home — from a citizen doing the right thing,” Neugebauer said. “The right thing to do is to cooperate with law enforcement so that we can bring these perpetrators of violence to justice, so that we can make sure that people feel safe, that people can walk around and that people can enjoy the city in which they have chosen to live. and the city they love.
Mock, King and other participants emphasized the need for citizens to play a positive role in improving Johnstown.
“Once you’ve got your neighborhoods organized and involved, that’s when the community comes together, starts talking, and starts taking care of their neighborhood,” Mock said.
King said more “personal responsibility” was needed.
“One of the problems is there’s too much hate and too much division,” King said.
“The cases were about drugs”
Drugs and transient populations are often perceived as factors of violence in the city. Janakovic and Pritchard addressed these topics.
“I wish as a city that we could choose whoever we want, but that’s called freedom – freedom of choice, freedom of movement,” Janakovic said. “We can only do the best we can with the citizens we have in our town, whether they are from Johnstown or from elsewhere.”
When asked if the recent homicides were linked, Pritchard said: ‘I wouldn’t say there’s enough to say there’s a correlation because it’s sporadic. We have people from Johnstown. We have people who have just arrived in Johnstown. It’s not something we can hang our hats on.
Pritchard added that “the majority of cases have been drug-related” in recent weeks.
The violence of early 2022 is the latest crime wave to plague the city, similar to what other law enforcement officers and elected officials have tried to deal with in the past. Johnstown is currently part of what Pritchard described as a “national trend of violence.”