Chief Harper raises stakes in response to Homewood shooting

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As the Midget League football game at Willie Stargell Field drew to a close Aug. 15, 20 gunshots rang out within hearing range. The shots were so close in fact, they injured three bystanders as they made their way around the corner from the game.

In response to the shootings, Pittsburgh Police Chief Nathan Harper addressed the nearby residents of Homewood at the very same field the next day. He came with a show of force of close to 30 officers and a threat to shutdown the Allegheny County Midget Football League unless someone in the community came forward with information regarding the perpetrators.

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SWIFT JUSTICE—Chief Nate Harper addresses the community at Willie Stargell Field, Aug. 16.

“As you see with kids playing here, we can’t tolerate this kind of violence,” said Harper, motioning to children swimming in the park’s public swimming pool. “We don’t have the names of the perpetrators. If we don’t have the names by the end of the day we expect to cancel the football league. We plan on making arrests immediately. We’re tired of always reacting to the same kind of events.”

Harper never had to follow through with his threat as a result of two suspects being identified and an emergency meeting with leaders from the league, but his effort might have helped dispel the Homewood community’s long standing “no-snitching” mentality.

“I don’t think they’ve had too many shootings at the field. In the community, yes, in every community,” said nearby resident Shirley Wheaton, 50. “People should be telling people what they see so they can help, but they don’t. Some of these kids could’ve gotten hurt.”

Anonymous residents provided police with the names of two suspects ages 20 and 26. Police still do not know what motivated the shootings.

It was nearly 4 p.m. when two women and one man were wounded on a pedestrian bridge over the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway, a short distance from the field. The women are both in stable condition and the man has been treated and released from the hospital.

“We’re very concerned. There were two factions of individuals that began shooting at each other. We have eyes and ears out here. We have to communicate,” Harper said. “Gunshots were fired at young people. Everyone should be able to enjoy this recreation.”

Some residents complained there was a lack of police presence the night of the shooting. However, Har­per indicated that patrol officers were driving along the busway when the gunfire began.

“We had patrols out here last night,” Harper said. “The officers actually said they thought they were being fired upon.”

The shooting shocked many Homewood community members including District 9 City Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess who represents the Homewood area.

“It’s situations like these that caused (Mayor Luke Ravenstahl) and I to institute initiatives like the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime,” said Burgess. “My church is a block away. I learned how to swim in this pool. I pledge all the resources of my office to work with the youth sports league to change this culture.”

According to WTAE Pittsburgh, on Aug. 17 a Homewood Bulldogs coach, Robert Burgess, was arrested and charged with several drug offenses. Jose Regus, league president, could not determine whether or not Burgess was a coach with one of the Homewood leagues. Calls to state and county police did not confirm the arrest.

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