CHESTER — The outrage is unanimous. An emergency room is where people go to get saved. Monday in Chester, it is where gunshots killed somebody.
Monday morning after midnight, a shoot-out at a Chester nightclub less than a mile from the hospital injured several people. A few minutes later the fracas turned into a shooting outside the Chester Regional Medical Center's emergency room where the victims of the first shoot-out had gone for treatment. When it was all over, two young men, black males, ages 20 and 24, were dead.
And Tuesday, that same emergency room is where police detectives combed the area, around stunned visitors and family members. People walked past the newspaper box with its screaming headline of two dead in this same spot, watching police search for clues to a gruesome killing where most days lives are saved.
"My mother was inside in intensive care when the shooting was going on yesterday," said Sandra Clark of Chester. "She was home last year when my brother was shot. This violence has to stop. These young black men, I just don't understand it. What are we teaching our young men? To shoot? We are killing our own."
Police coordinated their investigation from the Chester County Courthouse on Tuesday. Sheriff Richard Smith said he is pouring all available resources into solving this newest set of crimes that happened in the most public of places. Investigators rushed in and out of the courthouse - there was a palpable, visible sense of the urgency of solving crimes where shooters are on the loose.
The public violence, and chance that bystanders can get hurt or killed, will not be tolerated, said Doug Barfield, the 6th Circuit solicitor for Chester County. The police presence at the hospital, and the multijurisdictional investigation, mirrors the public concern over the violence, Barfield said.
"We are going to get to the bottom of the events that happened at both Studio 72 and the hospital," Barfield said. "These are public places. The public has every right to be concerned."
The nightclub shooting happened in a parking lot shared with a 24-hour grocery store. Bullets flying around, outside a club where five police officers were - two of them working security and three on patrol. Then more gunfire at the hospital. That isn't just brazen. That isn't just impulsive. That is plainly disregard for others' safety.
Smith, on Tuesday, has called these two deaths "senseless." He is right. The violence outside the emergency room is particularly appalling. The shooting at the hospital seems to police to be connected to, maybe retribution for, what happened at the nightclub. Since the shooting, there has been a deputy at the emergency room. There will be one today, and tomorrow, and longer, as the concern over the violence does not cease.
"Anyone, employees, the public here to use the hospital, could have been hurt," said Dr. Sam Stone, a second-generation Chester doctor and member of the hospital's board of trustees.
Dr. Doug Marion, a Chester ophthalmologist whose father, like Stone's father, was a legendary Chester doctor, said violence outside the emergency room is something the public should not have to expect. He called it, "scary and disturbing, when people dedicated to others, concerned for the welfare of anyone in need, are subjected to this."
Bill Bundy, retired CEO of Chester Regional Medical Center who is now president of the nonprofit foundation for the hospital, said: "(Violence) should not occur. You think of a hospital as a safe haven."
Last week, after a killing two weeks ago in Chester and a number of other gun violence crimes involving young black men, leaders in Chester's black community had planned a stop-the-violence rally and march for this coming Saturday. The newest violence, especially at the hospital, should outrage all people, said Rev. Bill Stringfellow, president of the Chester NAACP.
"The hospital, and churches, they are supposed to be the refuge, and this terrible violence endangers the lives of not just those involved, but others in our community," Stringfellow said. "This violence concerns me - it should concern all. There is great concern that our young black men are committing genocide - against themselves."
It is not news anymore that the single-most common cause of death for young black males is homicide. But that doesn't make this latest round of violence in Chester any less grisly, any less sickening. It does not mean that the rest of the people in Chester of all colors should not fight to stop it.
A march and rally against violence coordinated by the Chester NAACP and area pastors starts at 11 a.m. Saturday, behind Black's Drug Store in downtown Chester on Cadz Street. It will then head east and finish at the Finley Center on Cemetery Street, with speakers at 12:30 p.m.