Savage Justice: Community Mourns Hero

Savage Justice: Community Mourns Hero

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In the bloody tapestry of senseless murders that happen all too often in Philadelphia, the expression ‘wrong place, wrong time’ is often used to describe the fate of an innocent bystander who catches a bullet meant for someone else.

But, according to Morgan Mack, younger brother of the late Miles Mack, Mack was at the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing.

“He was doing what he loved. He was a true hero to the kids in the community and the young men he mentored,” said his brother.

Miles Mack founded the X-Tra Miles Development Basketball League in 2004 with close friends to curb youth violence, and his brother said he literally gave his life in his effort to save young men. Mack was killed on September 11, 2008, along with 19-year old Darren Hankins, the intended target. Mack was handing out trophies to teen basketball players and when gunfire erupted, destroying the positive energy of the moment, Mack dove onto one of the players, shielding the teen with his own body.

“I wasn’t there when it happened, but I understand that his last words to the boy was, ‘Are you alright?’ That’s the kind of man my brother was, always thinking about the kids,” Morgan Mack said. “The tragedy in all of this is that the young man on trial for my brother’s murder is exactly the type of person Miles would have gravitated to.”

The defendant in the case is Kareem Savage, 22, who has been charged with first-degree murder, third-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, weapons offenses and possession of an instrument of crime. In addition to being accused of killing community leader and basketball coach Miles Mack and teen basketball player Darren Hankins, he is also accused of murdering a third man, Valentino Cortez Ennis, a few months earlier in an unrelated incident.

Mack had a mentor named Pete Bridges. When Bridges retired from the playground at 36th and Aspen Streets, Mack took over.

But his brother said that wasn’t the extent of Mack’s devotion to the young men he considered to be “his kids.”

“It’s how he got his blessings. He was all about helping the kids. He worked a full-time job at Jefferson Hospital in the day and worked in the community after. He wanted the kids to have the same opportunities he had when he was growing up. He used his own funds to help the community,” Morgan Mack said. “After his death, I later found out that he acted like a parent for a lot of these boys. If they had a problem at school, he’d go see about it. He bought notebooks, pens and other school supplies if they needed them. He did this because it was in him, that’s how he was. He wanted the kids to be safe. He parented them and mentored them. When he was killed, the community lost a lot more than just one man. We lost a spirit who was all about life.”

Mack said that he learned from a close friend that his brother had been shot on that September evening. But at first, he didn’t think it was fatal — that there was a chance his brother would survive.

“The family was devastated,” Mack said. “My mother is still taking it hard.”

The courtroom was quiet when Detective James Pitts read Savage’s confession aloud. Pitts told the court that he spoke with Savage at length after he had been brought in for questioning in connection with the Ennis murder.

Mack, 42, and Hankins, 19, were fatally shot at the McAlpin Recreation Center at 36th and Aspen Streets. According to investigators and Savage’s statement, Savage and another man, identified as Malik Johnson, both wearing hooded sweatshirts, came to the playground looking for Hankins, who was also known as “Shaddy.”

Mack was about to hand out trophies when the shooting began.

Investigators believe the shooting was motivated by a dispute between Hankins and the alleged ring leader of a violent North Philadelphia drug gang called “Thompson University,” of which Savage was allegedly a member.

According to the statement given by Savage to police, Thompson University ringleader John Cornish allegedly ordered the hit on “Shaddy” and allegedly ordered Savage and Malik Johnson to carry it out.

According to Assistant District Attorney Brian Zarallo, who is prosecuting the case against Savage, Johnson was never arrested because there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him — other than Savage’s statement — but the investigation continues. Ironically, Savage told police in his 8-page confession that he didn’t even know why Cornish allegedly wanted “Shaddy” dead.

“John said that Shaddy was at the playground and told me and Malik to ‘take care of that.’”

“What did he mean when he said to ‘take care of that’?” asked Detective Pitts.

“I thought he just wanted us to shoot Shaddy. I didn’t think he wanted us to kill anyone,” Savage replied.

“Why shoot Shaddy?” asked Pitts.

“Because John is a ring leader. If I didn’t do it I would have gotten shot or killed myself,” Savage replied.

According to investigators, after the shooting began, Johnson allegedly closed in on the injured Hankins and shot him several more times as he lay on the ground. Mack was killed when he dove on top of a nearby teen, trying to protect him from gunfire. A 9mm bullet, allegedly fired by Savage, struck Mack in the buttocks and severed an artery.

Four other people were injured in the attack: Douglas Mathis, 20, of the 3000 block of Girard Avenue; Derrick Segers, 45, of the 3800 block of Polansky Street; Terrell Spencer, 23, of the 2300 block of West Segley Street; and Mikal Hanton, 18, of the 3900 block of Mount Vernon Street.

After Mack’s death, the city renamed McAlpin Playground after Mack. City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell sponsored the name change. Chad Dion Lassiter, MSW, President, Black Men at Penn, Inc., said that every time he interacted with Mack, the man was always positive.

“I knew him from working in the community and I was as saddened by his senseless death the same as everyone.” Lassiter said. “Miles was one of the unsung heroes of the community, and all he wanted was a better life for our young men. He gave his life for it. His goal was to protect the youth by getting them involved with basketball and ironically he died at the hands of the very young men he was trying to save. I admired his work. He wasn’t looking for medals, or awards or accolades. So many people pay lip service when they say they want to help the community. Miles lived it.”

On Thursday, Court of Common Pleas Judge Steven Geroff found Savage guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, four counts of attempted murder and related offenses in the defendant's waiver trial. Savage faces a mandatory life sentence for both counts of murder with no possibility of parole. The sentencing hearing has been set for Aug. 30.