Two teenagers have been charged with murder in connection with 8-year-old Fanta Bility’s death after they started a shootout near a Pennsylvania football game on Aug. 27, according to prosecutors.
But Fanta did not die at the hands of Angelo “AJ” Ford, 16, or Hasein Strand, 18.
The innocent girl was almost certainly struck by a bullet fired by one of three Sharon Hill police officers after they opened fire on a vehicle they mistakenly believed to be part of the gunfight between Ford and Strand.
Fanta was struck once in the back and died at the scene. Four other people, including her 13-year-old sister, Mamasa, were injured by police fire.
Ford and Strand face first-degree murder, aggravated assault, and gun charges, according to prosecutors. While Ford is in custody and being held without bail, Strand was still at large as of Wednesday and was being sought by U.S. Marshals, according to prosecutors.
First Assistant District Attorney Tanner Rouse said the reason for charging the teen boys was “very simple.” In a statement, he explained, “They were attempting to kill one another that night, and as a direct result a little girl is dead.”
“Today’s arrests begin the criminal process for those that initiated the deadly events of August 27 by shooting to kill at a high school football game,” Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said. “Still, the pursuit of justice for Fanta demands that my office continue its comprehensive review of the actions of all parties involved in the tragic chain of events.”
But Bruce Castor, an attorney representing Fanta’s family and the other occupants in the vehicle, called the charging of the teens “a gutsy move.”
“I want the focus to remain on the Sharon Hill police officers, whose negligent and reckless behavior in reacting as they did is what killed Fanta Bility,” he said.
“From the point of view of the Bility family, these officers killed Fanta, and they need to be held accountable for that, and those responsible for their supervision and training need to be held accountable for that.”
Fanta was killed on a Friday, three days before she was due to start the third grade at Sharon Hill School, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Family members said she had gone to the game to cheer on her cousin, who was playing on the field that night.
“My family is still devastated, my family is still hurting,” one of Fanta’s cousins, Saddiq Muhammad, said at the child’s funeral on Aug. 31. “She was a beautiful little girl.”
“We need justice,” an aunt said after the service. “She didn’t deserve this. She was an innocent girl. She did nothing wrong, and she never hurt anyone.”
It is unclear which of the three unidentified officers fired the bullet that struck Fanta. All three have been placed on administrative leave for the length of the investigation.
A grand jury will form Nov. 18 to review whether the officers were justified in deploying deadly force.
The shootout took place just before 9 p.m. a block from the stadium, as the officers were reportedly running crowd control after Academy Park High School’s season-opening game.
According to an arrest affidavit, Ford and Strand were on opposite sides of a conflict between two groups of teenagers as they left the football game. What they were fighting about is unclear, but witnesses said Ford lifted his shirt as the argument escalated, revealing a handgun.
Strand went to a nearby car and allegedly pulled out a 9mm pistol. The two began firing at one another, striking and injuring an unidentified victim, police said.
The three officers then drew their weapons after Strand allegedly shot in their direction, police said. A car turning onto the street—occupied by two 19-year-old women, both alumni of the school—was caught in the subsequent crossfire.
As bullets struck the vehicle, the women in the car were cut badly by shattering glass, according to authorities. Other shots went beyond the car, striking Fanta and her sister, who were leaving the stadium, as well as two others.
Last month, Fanta’s family filed a federal lawsuit against Sharon Hill Borough, the police chief, and the three officers involved in the shooting, according to PhillyVoice. A GoFundMe to help the family with expenses from the “unexpected tragedy” raised $16,813.
Castor, the family’s attorney, is notable for his place on former president Donald Trump’s legal team during his second impeachment trial, and for declining to bring criminal charges against Bill Cosby for sexual assault in 2005.