Cherry Hill rec center closed after shooting

November 28, 2007|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,Sun reporter

A recreation center in Cherry Hill will be closed for the rest of the week after Monday night's double shooting as city officials review the center's hours and offer support services to affected staff and youth.

The 16- and 18-year-old victims of the shooting inside the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Recreation Center remain in the hospital, according to Officer Nicole Monroe, a police spokeswoman.

Police said that two males came to the center, in the 2500 block of Seabury Road, about 7:55 p.m.

The shooter entered the center for about 30 seconds, and shot the two victims, said Maj. Michael McDonald of the Southern District. The other person remained outside.

About three adults and a dozen youth, some playing basketball, were in the center, which closes at 9 p.m. No one else was injured.

Police believe that the suspects belong to a relatively new youth gang in the nearby public housing development, Cherry Hill Homes. McDonald said the group was involved in two other nonfatal shootings about a month ago behind a nearby shopping center.

Police have been aware of the group - which consists of 14- to 20-year-olds - for about eight months, McDonald said. "They're just trying to make a name for themselves as the baddest group of Cherry Hill," he said. "We have several leads and we're actively investigating the shootings."

The 16-year-old, shot in the stomach, remained in critical but stable condition yesterday, said Monroe. The 18-year-old, who was shot in the hip, was recovering.

Police would not release the names of the victims.

The shootings come near the end of a year in which violent crime in Cherry Hill has dropped drastically. Homicides are down 50 percent compared with the same period last year and nonfatal shootings were down 75 percent, as of Nov. 17.

Such gains have been celebrated by community members, pastors and police, as evidence of a neighborhood coming together to combat long-standing problems of rival youth gangs.

Yesterday's reaction was mixed as community members expressed shock that such a shooting could take place inside a recreation center that is part of an elementary school.

"There's little or nothing much to do out here," said Shirley Foulks, 57, who runs an after-school program in Cherry Hill Homes. "There are few places where kids can be safe. And now that's in jeopardy? This is supposed to be a safe haven."

Foulks' program is attended by about 35 youth, she said. "I've been pleased that mine are safe and inside with me and now I gotta question that," she said. "Are they more safe at home? I don't know. I just don't know."

Bishop Willard E. Saunders Jr. of Created for So Much More Worship Center said he doesn't believe the shooting is an indication of a slide back. "The only positive thing that came out of this is that now, this is unusual," said Saunders. "There was a point where that would have been the norm.

"We will deal with this," he added. "We will make sure that this is no kind of setback."

sumathi.reddy@baltsun.com

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