Philadelphia Community Tries to Heal From Trauma as Shooter's Mental Health Comes Into Focus

PHILADELPHIA, PA (AP) - In the weeks leading up to Kimbrady Cariker's shooting spree with an AR-15, he was becoming increasingly agitated, erratic and pacing around the house, wearing a bulletproof vest.

In the wake of the bloodshed on Monday, officials urge people to contact the police or the city’s mental health resource number when they see suspicious posts on social media or believe someone might need help. Carriker's mental health issues are increasingly in the spotlight, and his shattered community is now trying to heal from their psychological trauma.

Earlier this week, prosecutors declined to comment on whether Carriker’s mental health was a factor in the shooting. Carriker's erratic behaviour was not reported by anyone, nor did he have a history of contact with the police or mental health providers.

Carriker's page on Facebook, which was later taken down, had posted about his passion for guns and self protection, and he mentioned that he went on community patrols, albeit seemingly alone. Some of the recent posts included articles on what to do when you believe an evil spirit is after you.

The 40-year old is accused of five counts each of murder, attempted-murder, aggravated-assault and weapons. The Associated Press left phone messages with the family and former roommates, but they declined to respond.

Chief Inspector Michael Cram of the Philadelphia Police Department Homeland Security Bureau said that if someone is armed, not in their right minds, and is capable of harming others, they should call 911. There is no other option for someone in a crisis of this nature.

Cram is the head of the new Behavioral Unit that was created late last year. The program includes a co-responders' program, which pairs police officers and clinicians in response to calls for behavioral health services.

This is one of several efforts by the city and police to address mental health issues in the community.

Cram stated that more than 2,000 Philadelphia police officers, out of the city's 6,000 total, have completed Crisis Intervention Team Training. This 40-hour course focuses on mental health and how to deal with someone in crisis.

The 911 call center operators are also trained to recognize calls that may be better handled by mental health professionals.

Jill Bowen said that after the death of Walter Wallace Jr. and the subsequent protests, the city intensified its efforts in building out its mental health crisis system.

Wallace's family called 911 for help when he was experiencing a mental illness. Wallace was armed with an ax when two Philadelphia police officers found him. Wallace refused to drop his weapon, and the officers fired multiple shots at him despite pleas by his mother. The encounter was captured on a cellphone video, which sparked protests in the community.

Bowen says that since the year 2020, the number of calls to the city crisis service and the 988 hotline (the national suicide prevention and crisis prevention line) has increased each month.

She said that the city added a mobile unit to its emergency response team, which dispatches locals or people familiar with their communities whenever possible. They also distributed trauma cards which provide information on local resources.

You don't need to ask yourself, "Should I call?" Is this the correct number? Call. Bowen: "Whatever the question or need... they will guide you appropriately."

In the days following the shootings, the streets of the Kingsessing area were mostly quiet, under a cloud of collective trauma. Community groups and religious leaders wondered how to provide a place for healing when so much of the neighborhood was a crime scene.

Lashyd Mertt, 21, Dymire Stanton, 29, Ralph Moralis, 60, Joseph Wamah Jr. 31 and DaJuan B. Brown, 15 were all killed as they went to the grocery store, visited their grandparents or headed to meet up with friends.

Cean James, the pastor of Salt & Light Church located a few blocks away from the location where the shootings occurred, welcomed anyone the following morning. He has hosted vigils, and invited people from the church and outside to talk to a spiritual advisor or counselor to help process the shooting.

James explained that there is an African American saying which states, "Black people do not go to therapy; they go to the church." 'A few decades ago, I began to wonder, what if church could be used as a therapy?

The church pays for the services of one of the pastors who has a Ph.D. In mental health counseling. This allows people to see him without charge. James stated that the cost of counseling was prohibitive for many in the community. Many Black people also had bad experiences with counselors who did not understand their culture, or community.

James believes that people are feeling a sense of safety. This is partly because they have a place to grieve and talk with their neighbors. But it's also because more information has been released about Carriker, and how isolated the shooting seems to be.

He said, 'People were out in greater numbers than usual (Friday). They were comforting one another, talking to each other and being a community for each other. This is a resilient and strong community.