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In that neighborhood, people thought of Michael as a bright young guy who was a good example for neighborhood kids — an inner-city phoenix who’d found a way to rise above his family’s legacy of chaos and crime. He devoted some of his free time to volunteering with Philadelphia Cease Fire, lecturing young people about the senselessness of gun violence. Michael, meanwhile, was in North Philly, standing in the shadows of the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. Members of Cease Fire, along with Temple trauma experts, gathered to hear U. Michael needed to hear these sorts of messages, to let them soak into his DNA like a magic tonic.
It was like therapy, in a sense, an exercise to convince him to stay on the straight and narrow. Cease Fire’s black and orange bus, plastered with its blunt slogan — “Stop. His peer-mediation efforts had helped to prevent at least one neighborhood beef from turning violent, his Cease Fire pals believed.
The danger and excitement of the drug gang’s bubble in West Philly faded as Michael headed home to a quiet stretch of Nicholas Street in North Philly, not far from the Martin Luther King Recreation Center. Foster’s panic deepened when he fielded a phone call from one of Brooks’ top lieutenants, who said he wanted to stop by to retrieve his boss’s firearms.
He was 19, short and muscular with an easy smile and buckets of charm. “The guns not here, bro,” Foster reluctantly told him. Someone would have to pay for stealing what belonged to him. Bob Casey talk about the importance of crime-prevention strategies, like the kind of mentoring work Michael did.
“Reds” Murray was so good, locking up more than 50 accused killers by his count, that a notorious gunman named Jose “Little Bert” De Jesus once put a contract out on his life. But for now, he was stuck chasing criminals west of the Schuylkill. A shooting, he was told, had just been reported in West Philly, on Angora Terrace near 55th. It was unusual to have somebody shot before lunchtime, even in this city.
Murray drove out to the scene, a sloping, tree-lined block of apartments and houses with wide front porches and brick columns that climbed to the second floor.
But a week later, Murray got an unexpected call from doctors at HUP. The smart play seemed to be to let the night drift away in a warm fog of the oxycodone.
Lawrence Downs hadn’t become another entry in the city’s murder tally. But then Foster announced he had a secret to share, and that grabbed Michael’s attention. Jerry “Boog” Brooks, the head of a small drug gang on 55th Street, had asked Foster to hide three of his guns.
But now his cellphone started to rattle, and he stopped in his tracks.
His eyes fell to 21 scattered shell casings, shimmering in the sun. There was one victim, a 31-year-old named Lawrence Downs, who by then had been raced in the back of a police cruiser to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
When Murray reached an official at the hospital, he was told that Downs was lost in a coma. Philly’s trauma centers work miracles every day, but it didn’t seem like Downs would be one of them.
“Reds” thought his son might try college after high school, but he headed straight for the Police Academy instead.
As soon as he got on the force, he took his grandfather’s old badge number.
Foster pulled out a black drawstring bag and emptied its contents: a .357 Glock, a Mac-10 assault rifle, and a 9mm subcompact.