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County Hall Corner: The Guns of August

A special press conference was held at the Williamsport City Hall on Tuesday, August 6th, to address the rash of recent shootings in the city. It was held by Mayor Campana, Williamsport Police Chief Damon Hagan and Captain Sherman Shadle of the Pennsylvania State Police. The attendees included all three Lycoming County Commissioners, the entire Williamsport City Council, and a host of other public officials and concerned citizens. It is a very rare public emergency that would bring all these top public officials together.

Chief Hagen went through the progression of the past few weeks. There have been five shootings in the city since July 17, two of which resulted in homicide. Sadly, among the alleged perpetrators and victims have been teenagers. Casting a shadow over all this was also the mass shootings that took 31 lives in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio over the first weekend of August. The timing of this press conference was to assure the general public that is preparing for the area’s biggest annual event, the Little League World Series. Captain Shadle, Chief Hagen, and Mayor Campana all assured that the city would be safe for the event. They alluded to extra city and state police patrols, and at the County Commissioners Meeting that was held later that day, Chairman McKernan also stated that the county had communicated that they too were offering any support they could provide.

During the question/answer period at the press conference, I introduced myself as representing Webb Weekly and noted to Chief Hagen that he had asked the public at large to be patient during the various ongoing investigations. But, I asked, was there anything more concretely that the public could do?

His response surprised me because he said that normally he would ask for the public’s cooperation, but he did not have to because the community was already actively supporting the police’s efforts. He even shared a story about chasing a suspect down a street and after losing him for a moment, three different people sitting on their porches pointed in the direction the perpetrator had gone. He added that when folks see suspicious activity, they are reporting it.

Jeff Reeder, head of the Citizen Corp Council, stood up and noted that there were ten Neighborhood Watches in Williamsport, and encouraged anyone who wished to be directly involved to support this effort. [Here is a chance for those living in the city to be an active part of helping keep the city safe. Jeff’s telephone number is 570-220-1835, email:]

In conclusion, what is happening in the city of Williamsport is tragic, especially when it hits close to home. Rhonda McPeak was like many of those in Williamsport, a simple lady just trying to make ends meet. She was working at Dunkin Donuts on West Fourth Street on the evening of Sunday, August 4th, and around 9 p.m. had the munchies and decided to go across the street to the Uni-Mart to buy a bag of chips. Unfortunately, a robbery was taking place, and in the melee, she was killed.

Rhonda had been a member of Citychurch where I serve, and she and her friend Kenny helped during our church’s water bottle giveaway during the Grand Slam Parade last year. Citychurch will be doing the same again for this year’s parade, celebrating Williamsport’s special openness and joy in a game that brings people together from all over the world. The guns of August are not going to silence our message of hope.

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