The Friday night football game at the high school had just finished. Eight-year-old Fanta Bility and her older sister were leaving the field in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania, when gunshots erupted in the street nearby.
As the crowd scrambled for cover, three police officers monitoring the exit drew their service weapons and returned fire, authorities said. Fanta was killed when a round struck her neck. Her sister and two others were injured in the hail of bullets.
In the month since the Aug. 27 shooting, police have not arrested suspects or named the officers involved, prompting outcry from civil rights leaders and community members who accused authorities of slowing the investigation of the shooting that killed a young Black girl.
On Monday, the prosecutor handling the case announced that his office had determined with “near certainty” that police fired the shots that killed Fanta and wounded the others, raising the possibility that the officers could face charges.
Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, said investigators were reviewing whether the officers, who have been placed on administrative duties, broke the law by using deadly force. He is also petitioning for a grand jury to consider evidence presented by his office, a tool prosecutors often turn to when witnesses are not cooperating.
Stollsteimer, a Democrat, said he met with the girl’s family members Monday to update them on the progress. He cautioned that the grand jury, once impaneled, could take weeks or more to complete its work.
“I understand the community’s desire for closure,” Stollsteimer said in a statement, “but ask instead for continued patience as we work to provide justice and accountability for all the victims of this tragedy.”
The Sharon Hill Police Department didn’t respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The shooting in the majority-Black, working-class Philadelphia suburb rekindled anger over policing that racial justice advocates say is all too common in communities of color nationwide.
After weeks with few updates from investigators, members of the Delaware County Black Caucus nonprofit organization gathered at the shooting site this month to demand answers.
“We have to be able to justify why a police officer, or anyone else, shot into a crowd of Black and brown children,” said NAACP Darby-area president Sheila Carter, a former police officer, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. “We need to know why this happened in our community.”
Bruce Castor, an attorney for Fanta’s family, said the family was left in the dark as the investigation progressed. The district attorney’s announcement Monday helped alleviate some of their concerns, he told The Washington Post.
“They left the courthouse feeling the district attorney is doing all that he can do,” Castor said.
In his announcement, Stollsteimer said the shooting at Academy Park High School started with a “verbal confrontation” among a group of young males about a block from the main entrance to the football field. As the gunfire rang out in the street, a car rounded the corner and passed in front of the officers assembled nearby.
“The gunfire, combined with the movement of the vehicle, precipitated responsive gunfire from the Sharon Hill police officers,” he said.
Investigators recovered .45-caliber and .9 millimeter shell casings from the scene. More detailed forensic reports are forthcoming, Stollsteimer said.
In addition to representing Fanta’s family, Castor is working with the family of a teen boy who was injured in the shooting, as well as the passenger of the car that drove by as officers opened fire. He said the passenger and the driver were cut by glass that shattered when bullets pierced the window. He said the district attorney told him about 25 shots were fired.
“Some of those bullets passed through and missed the car and struck the spectators,” said Castor, a former longtime prosecutor in Pennsylvania. “It really is a miracle” that nobody else was killed.
Investigators have identified suspects and others involved in the incident, according to the district attorney. “It is our expectation that further investigation will lead to the arrest of the individuals involved,” Stollsteimer said.
The district attorney also noted that Sharon Hill brought in an outside attorney and former prosecutor, Kelley B. Hodge of the Fox Rothschild law firm, to review the Sharon Hill Police Department policies and procedures related to deadly force.
Castor said the family was unsatisfied with the response from Sharon Hill officials.
“Their feelings toward Sharon Hill and police and government there are sour,” he said. “They don’t believe Sharon Hill has kept the community informed or them informed of what efforts they’re making to improve their procedures and policies other than hiring the person we suggested they hire.”
If investigators find definitively that police fatally shot Fanta, the girl would become the 12th person under the age of 18 to die in a police shooting this year, according to tracking by The Post. Officers have shot and killed 11 minors in 2021, The Post’s database shows. The youngest was 13.