In an instant, shots shattered a pleasant August evening, changing the Bility family’s lives forever.
Never had the family, who emigrated in 2004 to escape a civil war in the African country of Liberia, believed the safety of their children would be at risk in America or that police officers would shoot them.
On Aug. 27, 2021, young Fanta Bility, 8, and her sister, Mamasu, now 14, were hit by bullets and fell to the ground. Their mother, Tenneh Kromah, was with them as the family left the Academy Park High School football field after watching another daughter, Mawatta, 17, who was a cheerleader, perform for the first time.
They were leaving the game when they heard shots.
“Everybody was running,” said Kromah. “We all were together. We were afraid.”
She saw her daughter “falling down on the ground, and she wasn’t getting up.” She sat down, turned Fanta over on her lap, and realized she was wounded.
“Blood was coming from her chest,” she said. “I was screaming, ‘Somebody help me! Somebody help me!’”
“The police came. They grabbed her and took her to the hospital.”
“The police took me to the police car. I wanted to go with (Fanta and Mamasu). They asked me for my information,” she said. “I wanted to go with them, but they wanted me to give my information first.”
She was so shocked that she could not talk to the police, and her youngest child, Abu, who was 7 at the time, spoke for her.
“Any question they were asking, my aunt was blanking out,” said Siddiq Kamara, a nephew, and spokesman for the family, who sat with his aunt recently while she spoke to DVJournal about the worst night of her life.
The family did not learn that the bullets that struck the girls came from police officers’ weapons until weeks later, he said.
Mamasu, who was hit in the back, recovered. Fanta died.
Her siblings, including the oldest 21-year-old Howa, who recently joined the family from Africa, Mawatta, 17; Banglee,16; Mamasu, 14, and Abu, now 9, have all been impacted, as has the entire family, said Bruce L. Castor Jr., a lawyer representing the family in a civil case that remains pending in federal court.
“We all heard initially on the news that it was a drive-by shooting,” said Kamara. “And later on, it came down (that) it was not a drive-by shooting. It was an officer-involved shooting. And that’s when we realized and everything like that.”
When the family fled the Liberian civil war, where some 250,000 people died, Kamara said, “We thought this would be a safe haven. That turned out not to be the case.”
“Fanta was sweet and caring,” said Kromah. “She liked to play outside with her friends.” She liked school and was going into third grade. They were getting ready to go back to school that week and had bought school supplies. She was excited to return to Sharon Hill Elementary School after Labor Day.
A happy child, Fanta loved singing and dancing and made TikTok videos.
“We have TikTok videos of her,” Kamara said. “She liked fashion and wanted to be a designer.” Fanta drew pictures of the clothing she wanted to design, following in her mom’s footsteps. Kromah has an African clothing business and is also employed as a caregiver for the elderly.
The officers– Brian Devaney, Sean Dolan, and Devon Smith—were responding to shots fired a block away but believed that gunfire came from a nearby car. They drew their weapons and fired 25 rounds at the vehicle. But some of the bullets went into the crowd leaving the game. It was unclear which officer fired the fatal bullet since the projectiles were so mangled.
The bullets hit people in the crowd leaving the football game, including the Bility girls and two others.
A grand jury investigated the shooting, and Sharon Hill also hired a law firm to investigate. The shots that sparked the officers’ gunfire came from Angelo “AJ” Ford and Hasein Strand, who were shooting at each other down the street.
District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer initially charged Ford and Strand with murder but eventually withdrew those charges and charged them with aggravated assault. Strand pled guilty and was sentenced to 32 to 64 months in prison. Ford escaped from a youth detention center and was recaptured. He is awaiting trial pending a defense motion to change his status from an adult to a juvenile, a spokeswoman for the district attorney said.
Both Ford and Strand were members of rival gangs, authorities said.
The three officers pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment. At an emotional hearing in May, Common Pleas Judge Margaret Amoroso sentenced the former officers to five years probation, including 11 months of house arrest, wearing a monitor to start.
“We have somewhat of a closure,” said Kamara. “That part is closed. We want to continue to keep Fanta’s name alive. We think about Fanta every single day. That closure was needed. There is so much we’ve been dealing with the past two years.”
They are thinking about a scholarship in her memory.
Castor said he spoke to Stollsteimer and discussed possible legislation to improve police training so this will never happen again. Kromah said she would like to see better police training as one outcome of this tragedy.
The shooting shocked the community and the entire region.
Last July, Sharon Hill officials released a heavily redacted report on their investigation into the officer-involved shooting. At that time, Castor was incensed and said it was “completely unacceptable in any society that values the truth and the rule of law.”
“One of the things my family never got to see was the (entire) Sharon Hill report. We never saw that,” said Kamara.
Castor said, “There could only be one reason for holding it. That it was bad.”
Kamara added, “It bothers my aunt and I and the whole family that we haven’t seen the report. That’s really disturbing in a sense. What’s in that report they don’t want my family to see and the taxpayers of Sharon Hill that paid for it?”
“I don’t know why,” said Kromah.
Castor said, “The General Assembly is going to pass legislation to create a minimum standard of municipal police training. They need to know what was deficient in Sharon Hill. So by withholding the report, not only are the victims of this crime being kept in the dark, but all of Pennsylvania is less safe because the General Assembly doesn’t know how to (write the law).”
Sharon Hill Council President Tanya Allen said, “Although justice has been administered in the Delaware County Courts, there is still civil litigation in the federal courts involving the Bility tragedy. Once all litigation has concluded, Sharon Hill Council will consult with its solicitor about releasing the report.”
Kamara thanked the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office.
“Throughout the whole process, they had an open channel to us and our lawyer,” said Kamara.
Stollsteimer said, “How we deal with tragedy often reveals our true selves. The Bility family dealt with Fanta’s tragic death with dignity, grace, and mercy, putting their faith in our criminal justice system and their God. I am blessed to know them.”
Kamara thanked the community for its support and added, “We want to let them know we appreciate them and thank them for their help with the trauma my family is still going through every single day.”