For a century, the Mount Tabor Church was a sanctuary of faith and morality for the segregated African American community of Mount Holly Springs.
On May 31, 2014, gunshots rang out on North Pitt Street in Carlisle, leaving one man lying in the street injured.
Carlisle resident James Felix Walker was shot multiple times and had to be rushed to Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Forty-seven year old Walker survived the injury for more than three years, but died in September.
A forensic pathologist determined Walker’s death was the result of complications from the bullet wound he suffered nearly four years earlier, and has been ruled a homicide, according to Cumberland County Coroner Charley Hall.
Police are now investigating his death as a possible murder.
“(Walker) had sustained a lot of serious injuries,” Carlisle Police Sgt. David Miller said. “Although they were able to save his life, (he died from) complications from his original injury. ... That would make it a homicide.”
Around 7:50 p.m. the day Walker was shot, police responded to the 400 block of North Pitt Street where they found Walker lying on the road, bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds.
Witnesses said two men had shot at Walker, and one, who a witness identified as “Warren,” had fled the scene but dropped a hat, a cellphone and other items as he ran, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed by Carlisle Police.
Witnesses said “Warren” was carrying a silver handgun as he fled, and 9 mm shell casings were found throughout the crime scene, police said. The items were later identified as belonging to Warren Genell Bennett II, 31, of Carlisle.
On July 4, 2014, Bennett was charged with attempted murder in the first degree, felony aggravated assault, possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, firearm not to be carried without a license and misdemeanor simple assault, according to court records. An additional charge of misdemeanor reckless endangerment was added later.
Bennett was arrested that same day after attempting to flee police. He was found hiding in a bush in the backyard of a home near the intersection of East Penn and North Hanover streets, according to testimony provided at Bennett’s preliminary hearing.
He was not found in possession of a gun at the time of his arrest, police said. However, a 9 mm handgun was found four days later in the backyard of the home where Bennett was found hiding, and it was turned over to police, according to police.
The case against Bennett quickly derailed after his arrest.
Miller said Walker was uncooperative and refused to identify the person who shot him.
The charges against Bennett were withdrawn, according to court records.
“We developed a suspect,” Miller said. “Walker lived. He knew exactly who shot him because they were standing, exchanging gunfire in the street. ... We thought we had a good case, but Walker refused to cooperate.”
Bennett maintained his innocence throughout the court process.
“From our perspective, Warren has maintained his innocence throughout, and we have no doubt the reason the charges were dropped is because he didn’t do it,” Bennett’s attorney, Timothy Barrouk, told The Sentinel in 2014.
The second possible shooter was described as a tall, black man with “dreadlock-style hair,” according to police.
It would likely take new evidence, or eyewitness testimony, to allow police to move the case forward, Miller said.
“Without the cooperation (from Walker), without the witness testimony, we’re left with nothing,” he said.
Miller said it is understandable that people may be afraid to come forward. He noted that this shooting happened in the middle of the street while it was still light outside. He also said it was common for people not to want to get involved and let others speak up.
However, in this case, police need more, Miller said.
Without that help, Walker’s alleged killer, or killers, will likely remain free.
“There’s no easy answer to fixing that except having people look themselves in the mirror and say ‘Hey, we can’t let this stuff go in our country and our community,’” Miller said. “Somebody needs to step up and help out.”
Anyone with information about the shooting that led to Walker’s death is asked to contact Carlisle Police at 717-240-6660. Tips can also be submitted online through the department’s CrimeWatch page, cumberland.crimewatchpa.com/carlislepd.
More information about how the decision was made to deem Walker’s death a homicide was not available. Hall said he could not release the name of the forensic pathologist because of legal and ethical concerns about releasing medical information.
It is uncommon for a death several years after an injury to be tied directly to that injury and spur a possible murder investigation, but it is not unheard of.
In 2014, James Brady, the former press secretary to President Ronald Reagan, died more than 30 years after he was shot during a failed assassination attempt on Reagan’s life by John Hinkley Jr. Brady’s death was determined to be a result of complications of the gunshot wound he suffered during the assassination attempt, and his death was deemed a homicide.
Hinkley had been found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1982 and was not charged in connection to Brady’s death.
“There’s no easy answer to fixing that except having people look themselves in the mirror and say ‘Hey, we can’t let this stuff go in our country and our community. Somebody needs to step up and help out.” —Carlisle Police Sgt. David Miller
The Mount Tabor AME Church and cemetery in Mount Holly Springs has been added to a list of endangered historical resources compiled by Preservation Pennsylvania.
Last used for worship in 1970, this long-abandoned hub of a once-thriving black community was one of four additions for 2018 to the Pennsylvania at Risk list.
The building made the list due to its physical deterioration and because it no longer functions as a church, said Julia Chain, program director for the statewide nonprofit organization.
For a century, the Mount Tabor Church was a sanctuary of faith and morality for the segregated African American community of Mount Holly Springs.
To be eligible for the list, the church and cemetery grounds had to be nominated by the public through a submission process that included reviews by Preservation Pennsylvania staff and their board of directors, Chain said.
This review involved a look at properties and resources under threat of demolition, deterioration or a compromised setting. Threats can take the form of development pressure, vacancy and abandonment, a depressed local economy and limited interest or financial capacity of property owners.
“We are reacting to what the public is telling us,” said Chain, adding that the church stood out among the nominations as a rare and significant resource of African-American history with close ties to a local family.
They could have been grim witnesses to a funeral service, but were instead the guardians of a spiritual revival taking flight in Mount Holly Springs.
A former slave named Elias Van Buren Parker built the church in 1870. He is buried in its cemetery along with other Civil War veterans of the U.S. Colored Troops.
The significance of the church and its cemetery resurfaced recently as part of the Greater Carlisle Heart & Soul Project, which collected the stories of local residents to determine what the community values. One of the residents interviewed was Harriett Gumby, the granddaughter of Parker.
Since word came out on the condition of the building, volunteers have mobilized to preserve the church and its mostly undocumented history. “It seems to be a community story,” Chain said.
Lindsay Varner, director of the Carlisle Heart & Soul Project and the community outreach director of the Cumberland County Historical Society, said making the list means there are now many other people looking out for the Mount Tabor property.
Cumberland County has always been at a crossroads.
“I’m really excited about it,” she said. “It almost sounds like it’s a bad thing, but it makes us a preservation priority.”
Having the church on the list increases statewide awareness of its plight and its value as a case study on how a community can rally to preserve a resource, Chain said. She said this awareness will come in handy in garnering support letters for preservation grant applications.
Already Preservation Pennsylvania has provided technical assistance toward the Mount Tabor church cause. That assistance has taken the form of brainstorming options on how to secure ownership of the property, a vital step in securing grants to preserve the site, Varner said.
She said that because the organization works on projects statewide, staff members can provide insight on what works and what doesn’t from a broader perspective.
Preservation Pennsylvania is the only statewide, private, nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of historically or architecturally significant resources.
Aside from the Mount Tabor church and cemetery, three other places were added recently to the at-risk list. They are:
Often, the most memorable educational experiences happen outside the classroom.
For Harrisburg Academy senior Jacob Chadwell, that experience came with an internship at a farm in Perry County through The L.E.A.F. Project.
“That was only one summer, but it’s probably been the most formative experience of the last four years and I’m definitely planning to work with them again over the spring and summer months before I go to college,” he said.
Chadwell, the son of Robert and Ann Chadwell of Camp Hill, said he worked with a dozen other youth from around the area to grow vegetables that were sold to restaurants. The teens also worked at farmers markets and visited larger farms as they learned about diversity and practical skills such as money management.
“There was such a wide array of skills that I learned that I really appreciated,” he said.
He hopes in the future to combine additional work with The L.E.A.F. Project with his love for photojournalism.
Chadwell traced his interest in journalism to his grandfather, who was engaged with watching the news and always had it on.
“I think that exposed me, as a little kid, to that for the first time,” Chadwell said.
In the last few years, he has continued to find the field more and more engaging to the point that it had grown into a passion. He has been honing his skills on software in his digital media class which incorporates photography throughout the Harrisburg area.
In the last year, he started attending rallies and protests in the area as an amateur to test his skills, and found the work “pretty exciting.”
For example, he took photos at the Farm Show Complex last April when President Donald Trump came to Harrisburg to mark his 100th day in office. Chadwell called it an eye-opening experience as he had the opportunity to take photographs of people who held different viewpoints from his own.
“I feel like I learned an incredible amount about people who are living in the same state as me,” he said.
He acknowledged that entering the field at a time when there are so many changes is “exciting and scary,” but added that there are many opportunities to be creative.
“The amount that’s there to learn and get a grasp of is overwhelming,”
Chadwell seems up for the challenge, though, as he has made it a point to apply to colleges that take him out of the suburban setting of the West Shore to some of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States including New York City, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. He chose schools in big cities because he finds the cities exciting and wants to be in a place where he feels small and can share his ideas with others who are hustling for their dreams.
To that end, he applied to nine colleges, and has been accepted to three. He’s still waiting to hear from the rest so a decision on which city he will eventually explore through the lens of a camera is still upcoming.
“I’m not close to a decision yet,” he said.
There haven’t been any major snowstorms yet this winter for the Midstate. In fact, it’s been more mild and wet than cold and snowy, especially these last few weeks.
With that being said, what does spring have in store for central Pennsylvania?
The El Nino-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO, in the Pacific Ocean is important when making long-range forecasts. The area is currently in the La Nina phase, which features cooler than normal sea surface temperatures. La Nina will transition to a neutral phase during the spring. This neutral phase makes it difficult to predict upcoming trends, but not impossible.
Most of the East Coast, including this area, is projected to see above normal temperatures. The three-month precipitation map shows the Midstate having an equal chance for above or below normal moisture. However, the area is close to the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes, a projected wet region.
These estimates suggest a mild and damp spring similar to the recent pattern. However, severe weather and flooding aren’t a given.
Active severe weather seasons occur when a pool of arctic air hangs around the north longer into spring. As the atmosphere tries to remain balanced, that cold, dry air interacts with the warm, moist air in the south, and the results are often explosive.
This clash can lead to frequent tornado outbreaks. This year, the arctic air has seemed to retreat early, so the season may not be as busy.
As for flooding concerns, Ben Pratt, a water resources engineer at the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, says it’s been an active winter along the river.
“We had a significant ice build-up, which could be expected but doesn’t happen every year,” he said.
Pratt and river forecasters can become concerned with additional water added to the basin, like the melting snow and rain the area had last week.
“I would say that we’re not seeing anything at this point that causes major concerns along the Susquehanna,” he said.
But if the Midstate gets a huge snowstorm in March, like last season, then what? Pratt says it’s all about what happens after the storm.
“If it melts out quickly, then that causes a rise in the local streams and rivers.”
This is exactly what the area saw last weekend, and it could happen again with more rain or snow in March, especially with a damp pattern continuing.
In summary, spring likely won’t feature many severe weather outbreaks. It looks mild and a bit wet, and flooding could become a concern if it stays wet. While it should be a fairly normal spring, we are all at the mercy of Mother Nature.