One of the more sordid memories from my past: On my 30th birthday, April 8, 1991, I witnessed the shooting of 3 men outside the restaurant where I was having lunch.
I had just finished lunch at the TGI Friday’s near my office in Philadelphia. I was sitting with a good friend near the front window. I had a front-row seat as I watched a man walk up to 4 men on the sidewalk, point what looked to me like an enormous revolver at them, and shoot 4 times. Then, he turned and left. The men lay motionless on the sidewalk, their blood pooling under them. They were executives from Cigna, out celebrating Peter Foy’s 48th birthday. Peter died on the 9th from his injuries. Two other men were injured, and a fourth escaped injury by diving into bushes.
I initially thought this might be some kind of film scene. After a few seconds, it was clear there were no cameras, and what I saw out the window was real.
It was over very quickly. When people inside the restaurant heard the shots, they dove to the floor for cover, except for me. It was a beautiful day outside, the street was relatively crowded, and there were lots of witnesses. The police arrived quickly, and I eventually was brought over to the police station to give a statement. It was an abject lesson in the unreliability of eyewitness accounts – I think I remembered correctly the shooter’s general appearance and the shirt that he wore, but not what the gun looked like. I wasn’t called back or asked to testify.
Later I noticed that a bullet had hit the wall a couple feet from where I sat. It hadn’t occurred to me at the time that I might have been hit.
The shooter was quickly found and arrested. Dr. Jean-Claude Pierre Hill, who was scheduled to start a psychiatric residency at a nearby hospital the next month, was arrested on the 9th near his parents’ home in Virginia. In short-order it was reported that he was mentally ill, and that he thought the mafia or the CIA were following him.
After this, there wasn’t much more information. In fact, I don’t remember hearing about the trial or sentencing, even though the shooter’s name was permanently burned into my memory. I just looked it up today, and found he received a life sentence on December 12, 1992.
The account of his sentence includes details of how the shooter lied on a federal form 10 days before the shooting in Virginia to buy guns, including the murder weapon, and had purchased two Colt .45 pistols, four gun clips and 270 rounds of ammunition.
I didn’t know any of these people, and can only imagine the pain all of the families and victims experienced. It was a random, tragic crime. I’ll never forget.
You can probably guess how I feel about gun control now!