Family: Youth mentor Shirkey Warthen gunned down trying to squash argument

Shirkey Warthen.

** Shirkey Warthen’s viewing will be held from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Wednesday, April 25 at Francis Funeral Home, 5201 Whitby Avenue, followed by a funeral at 11 a.m. He will be interred at Mt. Lawn Cemetery, 100 Hook Road in Sharon Hill, Pa. after the service. **

True to his life as a youth mentor, Shirkey Warthen died last night in a Kingsessing double shooting while playing the role of peacemaker, his family said.

Warthen, 22, was shot multiple
times inside a house on the 5400 block of Florence Avenue – about a block away from his home – shortly before 10 p.m. He died at
the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

“From what I’m hearing, one of his friends had a confrontation with the boy that killed him. Shirkey’s friend beat the boy up. Shirkey went there to squash it,” his mother Michelle Puriefoy said today on the 1200 block of South Ruby Street, where Warthen lived at his family home.

“Shirkey told the boy to come outside. He told Shirkey to come inside. He never had a chance. Once he got inside, the boy unloaded on him.”

Also injured in last night’s incident was a woman, 32, who friends and family say was a friend of Warthen’s that was involved in the initial confrontation. She suffered a
gunshot wound to the leg and is in stable condition at the Hospital of
the University of Pennsylvania.

Police have not yet made any arrests, though neighbors said they know who the shooter was. “He comes around here all the time, buys cigarettes and chills right here,” said Greg Dandridge, gesturing to the front yard of the house where Warthen was killed.

“He walked up,” recalled Joanne Townsend, who, along with Dandridge and others on the block, was sitting outside when the violence occurred. “Two minutes later, we heard the shots.”

Spirit of youth

Warthen, who worked with the Juvenile Law Center’s advocacy program Juveniles for Justice, had recently been nominated for the 2012 Coalition for Juvenile Justice’s Spirit of Youth Award, given each year to a young adult with a childhood criminal record who has overcome personal obstacles to make a positive impact.  

Staff members of the Juvenile Law Center, where Warthen mentored other youth twice a week, were distraught to hear of his passing, calling him one of their “most passionate and dedicated” participants. “He was our star and he definitely overcame a lot to
be here,” said program facilitator Jessica Sones, who said that Warthen
has been with Juveniles for Justice since he was a member of its first cohort
four years ago.

He appeared with the group before the U.S. Senate in 2008 to urge
them to pass the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which
is currently before Congress for reauthorization. There, he spoke about
the about the excessive use of force by juvenile detention staff during
physical restraints and implored that limits be put on the practice.

Over the past four years, he also met with congressional staffers and
with local and state policymakers to push for reforms and presented at
the National Conference of State Legislatures and to law students at the
University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Overcoming obstacles

Administrators said he joined the program after spending two years in placement at a youth criminal facility when he was 14. “Shirkey saw his juvenile justice system involvement as an opportunity to change not only his life, but the lives of other young people who faced similar circumstance,” the center’s executive director Robert Schwartz said in an email.

When Warthen was released, he found that the credits he had earned while incarcerated did not count toward graduation at public school and was unemployed for several years as jobs snubbed him due to his criminal record and lack of a high school diploma, employees at the center said.

But he had recently obtained his G.E.D., gotten engaged to his longtime girlfriend and found a job at a Logan steel plant, his mother said. “He was proud of his job,” she remembered. “He’s always been my pretty boy, a woman’s man. And it was hard labor. But he always wore his hard hat and all. I just saw him yesterday, wearing his hard hat.”

“He had turned his life around and was doing good.”

“His dedication was remarkable,” said staff attorney Emily Keller. “Even though he was waking up at four in the morning to get to his job, he would still come to Juvenile Law Center after work to advocate for juvenile justice reform. His passion was truly an inspiration for the other youth in Juveniles for Justice as well for as our staff.”

“Shirkey was unwavering in his commitment to improve his life,” echoed Jessica Feierman, a supervising attorney. “He stayed on track even while watching friends and family members being pulled back into the juvenile and criminal justice system.” 

“From the moment he joined Juveniles for Justice, Shirkey stood out as a leader.  He never missed an opportunity to help other participants see their own true potential.”

Remembering

“His favorite saying was ‘Warthens are winners.’” his mother said. He had the phrase tattooed on his back. “I’m going to miss him.”

“We are grieving,” Schwartz said. “His untimely death is all the more tragic given the barriers he overcame, the successful life he built, and his passion for improving the lives of others. He had become a member of our family.”

Warthen leaves behind his mother, 6-year-old daughter, his fiancee, nine brothers and sisters and 14 nieces and nephews.

Family and friends will be holding a memorial service tonight at 7 p.m. on the 5400 block of Florence Avenue where Warthen was killed. They are collecting donations to help pay for his funeral services.

As far as the alleged killer, Puriefoy, who also works in youth advocacy
and serves as block captain and the judge of elections in her ward,
said that she just wants to see justice served – through the very system
Warthen was working to better. “I want the cops to get to him before
the streets do, because there are a lot of emotions right now,” she
said. “I just don’t want anyone else to get hurt. I want justice.”



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