Thursday, August 31, 2006

Our Condolences to The Family of Mary Cianci

Northeast Times eulogizes Tacony Town Watch founder.

Residents of Tacony and the entire Northeast lost a relentless neighborhood safety advocate last weekend when local Town Watch icon Mary Cianci died after a long battle with illness.

Cianci, 72, died at about 9 p.m. on Saturday.

She co-founded the Tacony Town Watch with her late husband, Anthony Cianci, in 1982. The group flourished and helped many other Town Watch groups get off the ground, both in the Northeast and outside the city. At the time, the Town Watch program wasn’t officially endorsed by the police department on a citywide scale.

Eventually, the number of active Town Watch groups in Cianci’s home 15th Police District rose to 60. Cianci became the Town Watch liaison for the district as well as treasurer of the 15th Police District Advisory Council.

She was a leading organizer of that organization’s annual parade and festival in conjunction with National Night Out, the annual event that fosters anti-crime awareness across the country.

"Anybody who knew Mary knew how dedicated she was to Town Watch, not just Tacony but the whole fifteenth district," said Angel Hartman, Mary’s daughter and the current president of the Tacony Town Watch.

Hartman has also followed in her mom’s footsteps as the district’s Town Watch liaison and served as an official Town Watch trainer and recruiter before stepping down from that full-time role to raise her family.

Hartman’s best recollections of her mom as a public safety advocate are how she would fearlessly confront troublemakers on their own turf, despite her own diminutive physical stature.

Even before the official Tacony Town Watch existed, Cianci — who lived in the neighborhood throughout her married life — began responding to graffiti, drug and crime problems in her area. Neighborhood kids had formed a gang and were causing all sorts of problems.

Cianci cut and colored her hair and donned baggy pants and gold chains, intent on getting the inside scoop on the youths.

"She said, ‘I’m going undercover,’" Hartman recalled. "She wanted to learn about the kids, to be one of them, to learn why they’re out on the street, why they vandalize and why they feel like they’re being misunderstood."

Years later, in December 2004, when District Attorney Lynne Abraham, the 15th Police District and members of the advisory council presented her with a distinguished service award, Mary Cianci said proudly: "We wanted to break them up because they would be fighting, stealing things and, mostly, doing graffiti. They were good kids but they were restless. There was no place for them to go, nothing for them to do.

"We cleaned that up in about six months by going there, talking to them and becoming one of them. To understand them, you have to be one of them. Then you can help to change them."

Cianci also demonstrated defiance for drug activity at the Whitehall public housing project and on local corners. Cianci wasn’t afraid to turn in bad guys, and she was able to convince many residents to follow her lead.

"Today, people are too scared (to get involved)," Angel Hartman said. "Mom, we called her the ‘little big mouth.’ All the people she stood up against, they respected her."

Cianci got her own children involved, too. In addition to Hartman, she is survived by daughters Deborah Price and Andria Carey; stepson Anthony Cianci Jr.; and nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

"She made me do this when I was thirteen," Hartman recalled of her own community service. "We were always proud to say we were Mary’s daughters."

A private family viewing will be held at the Walter J. Meyers Funeral Home, 6643 Torresdale Ave., from 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 31. A public viewing will be on Friday, Sept. 1, from 9:30 to 11 a.m. at the Tacony Baptist Church, Disston and Hegerman streets, with a service to follow.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Tacony Town Watch Inc., c/o Citizens Bank Tacony, 6958 Torresdale Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19135.

Northeast Times: Shooting Thursday to Sunday

Northeast Times recounts violent weekend.

Four men were wounded and another arrested on drug-dealing charges in four Northeast Philadelphia shootings over a 61-hour span last weekend.

The latest incident occurred at 11 a.m. on Sunday at the Roosevelt Inn, 7600 Roosevelt Blvd., said Philadelphia police Capt. Jack McGinnis of Northeast Detectives.

Witnesses reported hearing shots fired in a rear parking lot near Leonard Street. When police arrived, they spotted one alleged gunman, identified as Shawn Butler, 32, of the 1600 block of Butler St. in Nicetown, with a graze wound of the hand.

He was treated at the scene and taken to Northeast Detectives for questioning, then transported to Frankford Hospital’s Frankford Division when he complained of continued discomfort, McGinnis said.

Police believe that Butler was one of two men involved. The second male fled in a car, witnesses said.

Butler was charged with violations of the Uniform Firearms Act and related crimes. But he wasn’t the only person to end up in jail.

As police arrived at the motel, they also saw a 1990 Mercury Marquis zoom from the shooting scene. Officers stopped the car for traffic violations and allegedly found three pounds of marijuana inside.

The driver, Anthony Pygatt, 27, of the 5800 block of Oxford Ave., was charged with felony drug possession with intent to deliver. A female passenger was not charged. Both had been motel guests, police believe.

Investigators have not linked Pygatt to the shooting.

Early on Sunday morning, a Crescentville man was wounded critically in the chest at a karaoke bar in his neighborhood. At about 12:45 a.m., Thomas Vu, 27, of the 5800 block of Weymouth St., was attacked inside Ledo By Night Club at 701 Adams Ave.

Detectives believe that Vu was in the club with some friends that night and that there had been an earlier fight in the nightspot. Witnesses told police that Vu walked alone toward a bathroom area of the club and returned to his friends, bleeding from the chest.

Then someone smashed a bottle over Vu’s head before he collapsed to the floor.

No witnesses reported hearing any gunshots, but about 30 patrons fled the club when the attack occurred, McGinnis said.

City medics took Vu to Albert Einstein University Hospital in critical condition. He remained there as the Times went to press this week.

An early Saturday morning shooting also resulted in a critically wounded man, although police are still trying to verify his personal information.

The incident occurred at about 3:50 a.m. The victim reportedly claimed that he and a friend were walking near Castor and Magee avenues when an unknown male pulled a gun on them and fired, striking one of them in the chest.

Another friend drove the victim to Frankford Hospital’s Torresdale Campus, where he was admitted in critical condition. He remained hospitalized as the Times went to press.

The victim has been identified as Miguel Torrez, who is in his 20s and may be living on the 1400 block of Fanshawe St.

There have been no arrests in the case. The investigation is continuing.

A fourth man was wounded on Thursday at about 10:18 p.m. when he got caught in the crossfire of a shootout in East Frankford, McGinnis said.

The victim was talking to friends outside of Kappy’s Bar, at 1950 Bridge St., when a group of males began firing at them from up the block. Others outside of the bar may have returned fire, detectives believe.

Joseph Williams, 27, of the 1000 block of S. Fourth St., suffered a non-life threatening wound of the calf. A friend drove him to Frankford Hospital’s Frankford Division, where he was listed in good condition.

Investigators found numerous shell casings at the scene. They are searching for the gunmen.