Robbery, shooting near the Capitol in Harrisburg have lawmakers thinking about their safety
October 15, 2014 11:23 PM
Photos: Pa. House of Representatives
Rep. Marty Flynn, D-Lackawanna, left, and Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie. Mr. Flynn exchanged shots with a would-be assailant Tuesday night near the Capitol.
By Karen Langley / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG — Coming a day after three campaign workers were robbed in front of the Capitol, the encounter Tuesday night in which a state representative exchanged fire with an assailant left some legislators rattled.
After a day of votes and then an event for a fellow House member, two freshman representatives, Marty Flynn, D-Lackawanna, and Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, were a few blocks from the Capitol on their walk home a little before 11 p.m. Tuesday when a man pointed a gun and demanded a wallet, Mr. Flynn said. When the man trained his gun on Mr. Bizzarro, Mr. Flynn drew his own weapon, a Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 380 pistol, he told reporters.
“At that moment he saw that I pulled the gun, it was like he shot at Bizzarro, I shot at him, I shot at him again,” said Mr. Flynn, a former guard at the Lackawanna County Prison and a onetime professional boxer. “It was just like a blur to me. It was so quick.”
No one was hit, and the man and an accomplice fled, said the legislator, who is licensed to carry his pistol, which he had holstered in the small of his back.
Minutes later, Harrisburg police apprehended three suspects in connection with the incident, and in the morning a fourth.
They identified Zha-quan McGhee, 15, as the gunman, and said he would be charged with attempted homicide, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm by a minor. His counterparts, the police said, were Jamani Ellison, 17; Derek Anderson, 17; and Jyair Leonard, 15. All four will be charged with robbery, conspiracy and violating curfew, the police said.
Harrisburg police Chief Thomas Carter said they were the same people who committed a robbery about 9:40 p.m. Monday at the intersection directly in front of the main entrance to the Capitol. The victims of that crime were three members of the staff of the House Republican Campaign Committee, said Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana, who chairs the committee.
Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse said workers at the Capitol and in surrounding buildings should feel safe. After the Monday night incident, the city police positioned extra officers in the area.
“We apprehended the perpetrators of that crime and this new crime very quickly,” he said. “There was good police work at the heart of this, and we feel that those who perpetrated the crime have all been apprehended.”
At the Capitol Wednesday, several legislators said the crimes have been on their minds.
“I’m very concerned about the safety in downtown Harrisburg,” said Sen. Rich Alloway, R-Adams. “I have to tell you, I do not carry a firearm, but I’m going to. I’m actually going to go get a permit and I’m going to start carrying. This is crazy what’s going on.”
Rep. Mauree Gingrich, R-Lebanon, said she, too, has thought of bringing a weapon with her to the capital city. Firearms are not allowed within the Capitol but can be kept with the Capitol police. Mr. Flynn said he had left his gun in his truck during the voting day.
“As a female legislator, we have many meetings after session. Having been in the Capitol all day, a lot of those discussions take place in a nearby restaurant or some place where you can relax,” Ms. Gingrich said. “Coming back to the Capitol after dark is definitely a little uncomfortable.”
The incident Tuesday was similar in some respects to one four years ago in which Sen. Tim Solobay, then a state representative, was accosted by four teenage boys when returning home late at night from the Capitol area. He hustled into his car, and, when a boy raised a gun to the window, activated the siren he had installed because of his work as fire chief in Canonsburg.
Mr. Solobay, D-Canonsburg, said Wednesday that the first event this week was alarming for its proximity to the Capitol.
“You figure the confines of this campus are fairly safe, but it just goes to show things can happen anywhere,” he said.
But by similar thinking, Sen. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, said he does feel secure being in town on session days.
“It’s something you always have to be aware of, but I think it could happen anywhere,” Mr. Smith said. “I feel perfectly safe here.”