(PHILADELPHIA) — An investigation is underway in Philadelphia to identify a suspect in the fatal shooting of a 12-year-old boy, whose body was found in a dumpster, according to police.
The grisly discovery was made in West Philadelphia by a city Housing Authority sanitation worker, according to Philadelphia Police Department officials.
Staff Inspector Ernest Ransom, head of the police department’s homicide unit, identified the child Thursday afternoon as Hezekiah Bernard and said that at the time of his death he was in the custody city Department of Human Services.
A DHS spokesperson said the department had no immediate comment.
Ransom said Bernard’s body was discovered by the sanitation worker around 8 a.m. on Aug. 22 inside a closed plastic trash container he found in the dumpster on Cherry Street near the Arch Houses, a city Housing Authority property.
The inspector said the sanitation worker didn’t immediately open the plastic trash container. Instead, he placed it inside his garbage truck and drove to a Housing Authority facility, where the container sat in his truck overnight. The next day, Aug. 23, the same sanitation worker drove back to Cherry Street to collect more garbage with the plastic container still in his truck.
“During the drive, the container overturned and the remains of a male were observed inside that container with a plastic wrap around the head and with a comforter over him,” Ransom said.
He said the sanitation worker immediately called police.
Ransom said that during an autopsy conducted by the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office on Aug. 24, a gunshot wound was discovered on the right side of the boy’s head.
He said the medical examiner’s office determined the child was killed 24 to 36 hours before the sanitation worker pulled the plastic trash container he was in from the dumpster.
The boy wasn’t positively identified until Tuesday afternoon when members of his family contacted homicide detectives after learning police had returned to the Cherry Street area and were passing out flyers that described the boy who was dressed in a white shirt, black shorts, white shocks and black-and-white sneakers when his body was found.
Ransom declined to say if a missing persons report has been filed on Bernard, saying, “That’s part of the investigation.”
“We need the help of the public to identify the offenders in this investigation,” Ransom said. “The focus of this investigation is the swift apprehension of those involved in this senseless death.”
The grim incident comes as Philadelphia police crime data shows that homicides overall are down 20% in the city in 2023, compared to the first eight months of 2022.
Data released by the city’s Office of the Controller shows that of the 289 homicides committed in Philadelphia this year, at least 15 of the victims were under the age of 18. Additionally, at least 960 people in Philadelphia have survived gunshot wounds this year, according to the data.
Among the young victims killed this year was 15-year-old DeJuan Brown, who was fatally shot while protecting a 13-year-old friend during a July 3 mass shooting in the city’s Kingsessing neighborhood that also left three adults dead and two children injured.
The suspect in that shooting, 40-year-old Kimbrady Carriker, was arrested and charged with multiple counts of murder. The suspect has yet to enter a plea in the case.
Other children killed in shootings in Philadelphia this year include a 2-year-old girl who was accidentally shot to death by her 14-year-old cousin in July, and a 12-year-old boy gunned down in a June 22 drive-by shooting in the Germantown neighborhood, which also claimed the lives of two men. No arrests have been made in the triple homicide.
Nationwide, at least 1,192 children under the age of 18 have been killed in shootings this year, including 204 victims who were younger than 12, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a website that tracks shootings in the United States.
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