On the quiet morning of Friday, Sept. 16, sunshine warmed the air as a breeze blew down a nearly empty Indiana Avenue in Port Richmond.
A few residents wandered the sidewalks, and a lone police car idled in the street as people passed by.
The serene scene is a far cry from the violence that took place exactly a week earlier.
That night, at about 11 p.m., a mob of angry assailants set their sights on Mark Lavelle, a 37-year-old Philadelphia Parking Authority worker who serves as a coach for local youth soccer teams, kicking in his front door and attacking him in front of his horrified wife and children.
“When it happened, I saw myself at St. Anne’s, and my wife and kids were putting me in a coffin,” Lavelle said last week.
Why it happened remains a mystery.
The shockingly violent incident started when Lavelle was filling his car with soccer equipment in preparation for practices last weekend. He said he saw about six or seven vehicles pull up and park haphazardly around Livingston Street and Indiana Avenue.
People poured out of the vehicles — men and women, kids and adults — holding weapons and seemingly upset.
“When they got out of the cars, they were in a rage,” he recalled.
As a ticketing employee for the PPA, Lavelle said his immediate reaction was to get license plate numbers in case the angry mob started trouble.
As he stood at the cars, he said, two young boys, “about 13 or 14 years old” approached him and asked if they could wait at his house until the mob passed through the neighborhood.
Lavelle said they boys lived on another block but were afraid to walk near the mob.
“I forget where they said where they were from, but they weren’t being chased. These kids weren’t running,” said Lavelle. “They were petrified, scared.”
Hoping to help, Lavelle walked the boys toward his home, when he heard calls coming from his back.
“I looked back over my shoulder and there they were,” he said of the mob. “I just heard “let’s get those motherf**kers.’”
Lavelle said he instantly ushered the boys into his home while he stood on his stoop to talk to the mob of about 30 people.
“I said that I was just being curious” in looking at the cars, said Lavelle. “Then someone said ‘Something’s gonna happen now, white boy’ and they began kicking in the door.”
When the door came loose after being repeatedly kicked, the assailants entered the home. Lavelle said the first man to enter hit him with a pipe as another man followed, punching Lavelle as he fell to the floor.
Looking up, Lavelle said, he could see his children watching the attack and he heard his wife calling his name.
“I got some kind of adrenaline or something,” he said.
Lavelle got to his feet and pushed some of the attackers out of his home. Another man produced a gun, Lavelle said, and the two struggled until someone yelled for the police.
The mob fled shortly after.
After the attack, police apprehended Bergson Morin, 22, of the 4700 block of Rosehill St. in Feltonville, and charged him with aggravated assault, two gun charges — police believe he’s the man who produced the gun during the struggle — and charges related to criminal trespass for breaking into the home.
The man police believe attacked Lavelle with a pipe, Enrique Delgado, 32, of the 200 block of Eleanor St. in Feltonville, also was apprehended and charged with assault and trespass, as was a 17-year-old boy police have not identified.
Details aren’t clear
According to Capt. Tom Davidson of the city’s 24th Police District, authorities still are not sure why the individuals came to the neighborhood in the first place.
“We still don’t know. It’s still unclear,” said Davidson during an interview last week. “Nobody wants to come forward with anything concrete as to why this happened.”
Asked if this incident could be investigated as a hate crime because of racial threats or if any others could be charged in relation to the incident, Davidson said the city’s District Attorney’s office is still investigating.
“At this stage, we are hoping it’s an isolated incident. Otherwise, we are staying on top of it,” said the captain.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Soon after the attacks, racial tensions flared in the neighborhood. Lavelle and the two boys are white; most of the people in the mob were black or Hispanic.
The next day, Lavelle said, a group of people, including the mother of one of the three people who were arrested, showed up at his front door to threaten retribution.
“She said, ‘you got my son locked up because you’re white and he’s black,’” recalled Lavelle about an incident that occurred at around 3 p.m. the next day.
But, Lavelle countered that not only does he have a mixed-race family — in fact, he has a black nephew that lives with him — he used to live in Kensington and he ran a deli where some of the people who confronted him that day had once shopped.
“They called me ‘Mr. Mark’,” recalled Lavelle. “I said, ‘you know me.’ ”
Some of the 10 to 15 people there that day began to turn after the recognized Lavelle, but he said the mother wouldn’t leave so easily.
“She said ‘that’s only if you make it to court, you white mother f**ker.’”
Lavelle complained that after that incident, he called police as many as 22 times, only to finally have an officer show up and stay for a few hours. Lavelle moved his family out for a few nights and his home is now continuously monitored by a police car out front.
Just waiting to happen?
But, for this community, the attacks seemed like something that had been brewing for some time.
“People gather in these parks almost every weekend,” said Maryann Trombetta, president of the Port Richmond Town Watch.
That weekend, she said, vandals left crudely drawn swastikas scrawled all over Campbell Square on Allegheny Avenue and she said it’s not uncommon to see groups of kids and adults gathering to drink in area parks and playgrounds.
Neighbors believe the fight that eventually intruded on the Lavelle household stemmed from a rowdy crowd at Stokely Playground, located just down the street at Thompson and Indiana.
“It’s just a total nightmare,” she said. “They constantly do this … It happens all year round.”
Ben Mannes, a Port Richmond homeowner and founder of Philadelphians for Ethical Leadership, said he’s seen racial tensions in the community in the past, but he’s never seen it bubble up like it did for Lavelle.
“People here are scared [the neighborhood] could go down the path that Kensington went down,” he said.
After the attacks, when a “Where is the Media?” page appeared on Facebook, Mannes said the page was in response to what he believed was “bad reporting in the media” on racially tinged incidents in Port Richmond.
“There is tension here, but there are also plenty of black families here that are fine,” he said.
Yet, Lavelle said that the problem isn’t groups of kids hanging out drinking in area parks. In fact, that concern was recently brought up in a meeting held Wednesday, Sept. 14, when Lavelle met with Captain Davidson, representatives from state Rep. John Taylor’s (R-177th) office, representatives from the District Attorney’s office and the Human Relations Commission.
“I told them we can’t just be critical of kids drinking on the corner, because you did that when you were their age,” said Lavelle.
As a youth organizer for sports, Lavelle said that following the attacks, he’s heard neighbors criticizing everything from local kids to entire ethnicities, and he said that bickering and complaining would not solve the problem.
“If you’re going to point a finger, lend a hand,” he said.
Still on edge
On the street during Friday morning last week, residents walking the sidewalks on Indiana Avenue said they knew about the incident, but didn’t fear retaliation.
In fact, Anita Quinn, who lives just a few blocks away on Belgrade Street and is in her 70s, said the incident that happened to Lavelle was the first she’s heard of that kind of mob-style violence in Port Richmond.
“It’s the first time I’ve heard of something happening so close,” she said. “I’m a little leery, I guess, but I wouldn’t let fear keep me in my house.”
Greg Warenecki agreed, saying the neighborhood has changed in recent years, but he doesn’t see the recent attack as a sign that the neighborhood has succumbed to crime and violence.
“It’s really a shame. The neighborhood has changed, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “But, that [kind of attack] is just unheard of around here.”
Things are slowly getting back to normal for Lavelle’s family as well.
Lavelle said last Thursday was the first evening his wife would return to stay with him in the house. His family, he said, was shaken to the core by the attack.
“My eleven-year-old still will not sleep here,” he said.
The father of twins said that even now, his wife is uncomfortable in her own home.
“Last night was the first night she stayed here since then and even then, she’s been up every ten minutes to make sure the police car is still there,” said Lavelle.
Yet, even with the stress, Lavelle said he would do it again if it meant saving the lives of the two boys who he took to his home.
“I would have done it again in a heartbeat. I saved those kids’ lives,” he said.
Currently, he’s working with the 24th District’s community relations officers and he said he’d like to see police respond more quickly when called to incidents throughout the community, in case something like this happens again.
“Neighbors need to know that they can stand up and someone will be there to protect them,” said Lavelle.••
Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org