JOHNSTOWN, Pa, (WTAJ) — Cambria County Coroner Jeff Lees expressed serious concern at a press conference Tuesday morning where he reported three homicides occurred within a four-day period in the city of Johnstown.
Lees, who was joined by Cambria County District Attorney Gregory Neugebauer and Johnstown Police Detective Mark Britton, spoke at the Central Park Complex along Franklin Street where he informed the press of the troubling statistic and said six homicides in total have taken place since the beginning of the year.
Lees began the conference with an update on a homicide that took place on Friday, April 1 where 14-month-old Gianna Lewis-Rice died from injuries she sustained from abuse. The coroner said Lewis-Rice was taken from her home in the Moxham Historic District of Johnstown and sent to Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center where she died in the emergency room.
An autopsy revealed she died from massive blood loss caused by multiple blunt force traumas. DA Neugebauer said officials are aware of who her caregivers were at the time of death and charges are expected to be released within the coming days. Neugebauer continued by saying if Lewis-Rice had received medical attention hours sooner, she would have had a chance of survival.
Lees also discussed a homicide that took place in the beginning hours of Sunday, April 3 where Johnstown resident Edward West, 60, was shot multiple times in a parking lot. Police were dispatched to the 600 block of Horner Street where they found West unresponsive and slumped over against 3 Reds Tavern. He was rushed to Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center but was pronounced dead on arrival.
An investigation led to the arrest of Arlaya Morris, 40, of Johnstown. She was taken into custody shortly before 3 a.m. and faces numerous charges including homicide. An autopsy concluded West died from multiple gunshot wounds.
Lees concluded by speaking about the latest homicide that took place late evening on Monday, April 4 where a 35-year-old man was found shot to death in a bedroom. The shooting took place shortly before 11 p.m. at a home along Dorothy Avenue in Johnstown. The coroner said an autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday, April 5 and the identity of the man was not being released pending the notifying of the family.
An investigation into the shooting is ongoing.
“Yea I mean six homicides within three months is a grave concern,” Lees said.
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Following Lees remarks, Neugebauer spoke on the homicides where he praised law enforcement for their efforts but said they have been overwhelmed due to a low number of officers on duty. The DA also expressed the importance of the public’s help and said it takes someone to say something.
“The community needs to also understand that we need their help, we’re not everywhere all the time as much as we like to be,” Neugebauer said. “Sometimes, it’s just one piece of information that is given to us by a citizen can make all the difference.”
Neugebauer concluded by saying anyone who witnesses a crime is asked to report it to their local police departments and stressed they would do everything to protect anyone who comes forward with information.
President of the NAACP Johnstown Board, Alan Cashaw said that the community needs to resort to other things besides violence when it comes to solving situations.
“We’re appalled by the amount of violence that’s going on and we ask the community to just calm down and try to find another solution to conflict and hopefully by negotiation and not by violence,” Cashaw said.
President of Johnstown Police Advisory Board Deacon Jeffrey Wilson said that they want to see the community prosper, but it involves coming together as one.
“There is a fear out there and you know it’s difficult to speak and we again pray for our communities and we want to see strong and prosperous communities,” Wilson said.
Cashaw and Wilson are both heavily involved with the Johnstown youth and note how these crimes affect them just as hard. Cashaw is also Chair of Hope 4 Johnstown , which is a grassroots organization to help curb the violence in the city. Through this organization, kids from the city participate in many educational activities to help them escape from the violent nature.
Both leaders believe that it’s important to have this escape for children. They want children to have a mindset that isn’t driven by the violence around them but to know that their future is always bright.
“It takes all of us to change the mindset in the community. Let children know that the sky is the limit and they can do and achieve everything that they need,” Wilson said. “Those types of things will change the community and amp down violence.”