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‘Nightmare’ Month for City, ‘Horrific’ Afternoon

Mayor: Fatal shootings Wednesday happened as ‘20 to 25’ police officers canvassed neighborhood; response is not just a law-enforcement problem, he says

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
March 02, 2023
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

McKeesport City Council opened its meeting Wednesday night with a moment of silence for slain police Officer Sean Sluganski and four people who were shot — three fatally — earlier in the day.

Two shootings less than an hour apart on Wednesday left residents and local officials again wondering what can be done to stem gun violence in the city.

Wednesday afternoon’s events were “horrific,” Mayor Michael Cherepko said.

“It has been an extremely difficult month for the City of McKeesport,” he said. “An absolute nightmare.”

Just after 12 noon, a 47-year-old man was fatally shot outside of a store on Versailles Avenue. His name has not been officially released. Allegheny County police are investigating.

While more than 20 police officers were searching the neighborhood for a suspect in that incident, another shooting occurred about a half-mile away in the Crawford Village housing plan.

Three people were shot, including Jerred M. Duncan, 22, of Turtle Creek, who was pronounced dead at the scene, and Jordan Eubanks, 30, of the city, who died at UPMC Mercy Hospital, Uptown, a few hours later.

An 18-year-old male, whose name was not released, sustained a gunshot wound to the leg, county police said.

Detectives said the two incidents are not related and that there was no threat to the general public. Police believe the second incident stemmed from a fist-fight earlier in the day between Duncan and Eubanks.

Cherepko said he is frustrated with the outbreaks of violence, but that adding more police is not the only solution.

“We’re already collaborating with the FBI, the ATF, the state Attorney General’s office, the county police, the sheriff’s office, on a regular basis,” he said.

At the time of the second shooting, Cherepko said, upwards of two-dozen police officers were in the neighborhoods near Crawford Village — and the incident still happened.

“When you have three people shot even though there are 20 or 25 police officers, some of them on foot, in the neighborhood, it’s not a policing issue,” he said. “And if you haven’t noticed, it’s not just in McKeesport. People have no problem unloading and shooting up a police car.

“All I care about is what’s happening in McKeesport, but if you want to get depressed, turn on channels 2, 4 and 11,” Cherepko said. “All you see is shooting after shooting.”

City Councilman Tim Brown, who lives near Versailles Avenue, said the violence is coming far too close to home for him.

“I want to stay in McKeesport but I’m hearing gunshots now every night,” he said. “My grandson is right there. My wife and I are like, what’s the solution? Is there a solution?”

Cherepko said the city is using both low-tech policing approaches — such as additional patrols — as well as high-tech equipment, including ShotSpotter gunfire detection devices and license-plate readers, or LPR, at all major intersections.

“I believe we’re the only municipality in Allegheny County outside of the city of Pittsburgh to be using ShotSpotter, and I think we have more LPR cameras than anyone outside of the city of Pittsburgh,” Cherepko said. “We will continue to look at policing strategies, but there is more (outside of policing) than needs to be done.”

He praised the community-wide meetings being organized by the McKeesport unit of the NAACP to bring together schools, churches, students and other groups to address violence reduction strategies.

But, Cherepko argued, part of the problem stems from the 2021 closure of Allegheny County’s Shuman Juvenile Detention Center, which means that youthful offenders are turned out on the street without either rehabilitation or punishment, he said.

“The juvenile system is absolutely flawed in Allegheny County,” the mayor said. “They put an ankle bracelet on these juveniles, they go back home, cut it off and go back out on the street. There aren’t consequences right now. I believe in rehabilitation, but I also believe that for crimes, there need to be some consequences.

“There is no fear (of consequences) and the worst thing you can have is people with no fear,” Cherepko said.

Keenon Mikell, executive director of First Step Recovery Homes, said many young people in the city are trapped in a cycle of poverty which leads to hopelessness and no fear of consequences.

“Believe you me, if there’s no food in your house, you don’t care if (an) officer arrests you,” Mikell said. “We need to create a dialogue with the ones who are hopeless. The ones who don’t have any fear.”

Existing outreach programs focused on churches, sports programs and community activities aren’t reaching those youth, he said.

An Allegheny County report last year said those census tracts with high rates of poverty in Pittsburgh’s eastern suburbs and the Mon Valley are also those with high rates of gun violence.

Mikell, a city resident, told council he’s been going door-to-door in neighborhoods near his home and asking people if they would commit to a block-watch style safety program.

“I’ve gotten mixed reactions,” he said. “Some people have fears about retaliation, but some people are open to it.”

Mikell said he personally has lost at least 25 members of his family and friends to gun violence.

“This community does understand what losing someone is like,” he said. “We’re dealing with families dealing with real trauma.”

Cherepko thanked Mikell for his perspective and for offering ideas and First Step’s assistance.

“For anyone out there, if you want to be part of the solution, you’re invited to join us,” he said. “We’ve had partnerships for a year now with the Healthy Village Learning Institute, with our street liaisons who are working with us, and now with (First Step). We’re trying to connect ... I promise you I don’t play politics. If you want to be part of the solution, you’ll be welcomed with open arms.

“I still believe in this community,” Cherepko said. “We have such a sense of pride in this community. But no one has a magic wand. It’s not going to go away overnight.”

Originally published March 02, 2023.

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