2 teens being charged as adults after 16-year-old bystander shot in head in SEPTA shooting

"Stop committing crime on SEPTA or you're going to spend the rest of your life behind bars," SEPTA police warn.

Friday, January 12, 2024
2 teens charged after 16-year-old shot in head on SEPTA platform
2 teens being charged as adults after 16-year-old bystander shot in head in SEPTA shooting

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office has approved charges Friday against two teenagers involved in a SEPTA shooting that left a 16-year-old bystander critically wounded.

Now, SEPTA police have a warning to others who commit crimes on the transit system.

"Stop committing crime on SEPTA or you're going to spend the rest of your life behind bars," Chief of SEPTA Transit Police Charles Lawson warned during a press conference Friday.

SEPTA police gave an update after a 16-year-old bystander was shot in the head while waiting for a train at the 15 Street Station.

The shooting happened around 9:30 p.m. Thursday on the westbound SEPTA platform at the 15th Street Station at 15th and Market streets in Center City Philadelphia.

The two charged are both juveniles, 16 and 17 years old, but are being charged as adults, the DA's office says. Police said both teens have a criminal history.

SEPTA police said the 17-year-old is known to police after being arrested two years ago for a weapons offense, as well as last year for unauthorized use of a vehicle.

"It didn't stop him from reoffending. It didn't stop him from carrying a firearm illegally. It's frustrating," Lawson said.

Lawson described the shooting as a "lack of care for human life."

According to investigators, the 17-year-old boarded a train from North Philadelphia to go downtown. Once he was at the 15th Street station, he met up with the second suspect.

Shortly after meeting up, that 17-year-old then fired into a crowd on the platform, shooting a 16-year-old in the head. The victim was unresponsive and rushed to the hospital in critical condition.

Three SEPTA officers were "evidentially visible" on the platform at time of the shooting, Lawson noted.

Investigators found six shell casings at the scene.

"Police found a jacket they believe that the suspect was wearing and wrapped up in the jacket was a semiautomatic handgun, so that is part of the scene," said Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Scott Small.

Riders were forced to board all trains on the eastbound platforms from 5th to 15th Street Stations.

"Transit police just came to us to say everything was shut down," said Mac Ghee, from Germantown.

Following the shooting, police took the two teens into custody. Police said the relationship between the three teens is currently unknown, adding that there is no indication that the victim and the suspects communicated before shots rang out. However, law enforcement is still looking through hundreds of cameras in search of a motive.

"Our biggest crime issue on SEPTA is involving groups of juveniles. That's the pattern we have witnessed. Groups of juveniles meet up - bad things happen," Lawson said.

While SEPTA has seen a reduction in violent crime on the transit system for the third year in a row -- peaking in 2020 -- Lawson said gun violence is increasing on SEPTA despite it decreasing overall across the city.

"Something has to give. We have to get our hands around pattern offenders in this city. The issue in this city is not first-time offenders. We have to figure out how to stop reoffending. Law enforcement is doing its job."

The 17-year-old, who is the alleged shooter, is facing several charges, including aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and evading arrest, among other charges.

The 16-year-old is also facing aggravated assault, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person.

These charges could be elevated in the event the victim succumbs to their wounds, the DA's office says.

For months now, riders have voiced safety concerns regarding criminal activity that has taken place in and around SEPTA stations.

"It makes me think Philadelphia is becoming less and less safe," said Sam Neuenburg, in University City.

Lawson said SEPTA is going to continue to hiring in an effort to increase their headcount and put more officers in the field.

"I have a commitment from SEPTA to go above budget for headcount," he said. "We're putting cops where more incidents are occurring... Apprehension rates for committing offenses on SEPTA is abnormally high. So the message that I hope criminal offenders start to get is that if you commit a crime on SEPTA, we are going to apprehend you."

The shooting happened on the same day that Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner announced he was suing to stop a new law designed to limit his authority on SEPTA crimes. Krasner says plans to appoint a special prosecutor who would investigate and prosecute crimes that occur on the city transit system is unconstitutional.

The attorney general's office was directed to appoint the new special prosecutor within 30 days, however, that deadline is Saturday. So far the attorney general said they have been unable to appoint one yet due to the narrow requirements set by the legislature.

Anyone with information on this incident is asked to call Philadelphia police at 215-686-TIPS or SEPTA police at 215-580-8111.

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