More than 50 people stood in a parking lot along E. Third Street in South Bethlehem Friday night to hold a candlelight vigil for peace, to speak out against gun violence on city streets and to pray for the young woman who was gunned down a few feet away six nights ago.
“We need to start healing as a community,” said Guillermo Lopez, a longtime Bethlehem community activist and one of the event’s organizers. “Yolanda Morales died much too young.”
Bethlehem Police on Friday charged Rene Figueroa, 32, of Allentown, with homicide in the death of Morales, a 23-year-old from Bethlehem. Police also charged Javier Rivera-Alvarado, 38, also of Allentown, who is also accused of firing a gun during the melee.
An argument between two men inside the Puerto Rican Beneficial Society early Sunday exploded into gun violence on the street in front of the club, according to an arrest affidavit.
According to Bethlehem Police, about 30 bullets were fired. One of them fatally wounded Morales.
Lopez, who was one of a number of community leaders to speak at the vigil, said that it is important to convey to the young men who participated in the violence that they have lost the respect of others in the community because of their actions.
Paul Pierpoint, dean of Northampton Community College's Fowler Family SouthSide Campus, said that many ignorant people have had a lot to say about Sunday morning’s violence.
“They’re right, but not for the reasons they think,” he said. He blamed a pervasive “gun culture.”
“No one would have died if guns were not present,” said Pierpoint, who quoted from a controversial column written last weekend by FoxSports.com columnist Jason Whitlock about Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, who killed the mother of his 3-month-old child and later committed suicide.
Guns “exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it,” Whitlock wrote.
“Some will say guns don’t kill people, and that’s true,” Pierpoint said. “Angry, frightened people with guns kill people.”
Fountain Hill Mayor Jose Rosado said that now is not the time to cast blame or point fingers, but he hopes that the vigil leads to a more sustained discussion about how to avoid these kinds of tragedies in the future.
“What we need to remember is that the solution is here among us,” he said.
Bethlehem Police Chief Jason Schiffer was similarly encouraged to see the turnout for the vigil on a cold, damp night. The trust that the community has in the department was a key reason why it was able to make arrests in the case very quickly, he said.
“This tragedy affects all of us,” Schiffer said. “I’m grateful that we police a community that still has a soul.”
An anti-violence rally is planned in Easton today at 9 a.m. following the killing there of Ervin Holton.