Friends and neighbors are still trying to understand why anyone would rob a community barbecue. And it's more than money that was lost; they say an angel is gone after he gave his life to protect his neighbors.
“He was the neighborhood, he kept everything together, he was my best friend,” said an anonymous neighbor of John Pernell, 66, who was shot and killed at about 4:30 p.m. Saturday in the 3000 block of Nelson Place SE during an armed robbery gone wrong.
An emotional man who said he witnessed the shooting -- and wants to remain anonymous out of fear the gunman will return -- said he and the rest of the neighbors on Nelson Place are shaken up over the loss of Pernell, a man many called "the mayor."
“If your air conditioner was broken, if your vacuum cleaner was broke, anything, John would be right there to help you fix it,” said neighbor Darnell Marshall. “He helped take women to the grocery store, whatever you needed done, John was here to do.”
Witnesses said that at the time of the shooting there were eight people inside a local barbecue pit, washing grills and preparing for the neighborhood's annual cookout. Witnesses said three armed men suddenly approached from the front and two in the back, trapping everyone inside. Witnesses said they were told to immediately get on the ground and give up everything in their pockets. Seven of them did, but witnesses say Pernell, in a heroic attempt to save his neighborhood, fought back.
People who were there said Pernell managed to get control of one of the robber’s guns and discharged a bullet into his own hand. But there were four other armed men. Another witness told NBC4 that Pernell never stood a chance and was shot twice.
“We’re here and he’s gone,” said a witness who wished to remain anonymous. “That’s the part that hurts the most, 'cause we seen it happen. If there was anything else that I could do, I probably would of did it.”
With firecrackers going off at the time, many neighbors said they didn’t hear the shots that brought Pernell to the ground. But the community is now hoping whoever shot and killed their protector will soon be found.
“I hope that you feel in your heart to turn yourself in, turn yourself in,” said neighbor Wanda McMillion. “He didn’t deserve that.”
Witnesses say the suspects made off with less than $100, but because they weren’t wearing masks, witnesses were able to give police their description.
Published at 6:46 PM EDT on Jul 5, 2010