January 09, 2017
With tears, laughs and hugs, a grieving family gave thanks on Monday to Philadelphia police officers who helped them through the unimaginable pain that comes with unexpectedly, and violently, losing a child.
Ayeshia Poole, her children and other family and friends headed to the 19th Police District to surprise Captain Joseph Bologna and Officer Frank Gramlich for their work on the investigation of the hit-and-run that claimed 8-year-old Jayanna Powell’s life on November 18, 2016.
When they arrived at 61st Street and Haverford Avenue in West Philadelphia, the family presented the officers with a pendant featuring Jayanna’s picture on that front and the words “You will always be my hero” on the back.
Poole, who lost a daughter in a crime that would be solved weeks later thanks to a tip from the public, also read a thank you letter and presented the officers with homemade certificates of achievement.
The moment made clear – even as relations are strained between many police departments and the communities they serve – that compassion, cooperation and looking out for one another can help heal divides and soothe weary souls.
The involvement in survivors’ lives, as mentors and role models, was the motivating force behind the 1 p.m. meeting in the roll-call room. Ayeshia was flanked by Jayanna’s siblings – Hassan, 12, Hadiyah, 11, and 6-year-old Jayquan – as she addressed the officers.
“This little girl brought not only a family together, but a district and community more together." – Capt. Joseph Bologna, 19th District, Philadelphia Police Department
“Both of you have been by my side, and my children’s side, from Day One up to today,” she said. “Me and my children are truly, truly appreciative for what you have done, and are doing, for us.”
That extended beyond investigating the case into participating in memorial walks and checking in on a family in grief.
When she presented Bologna and Gramlich with those pendants on a necklace, the men fought back tears and were quick to embrace Jayanna’s family.
“You’re part of this family forever,” said Bologna, pulling Jayanna’s siblings in for hugs.
“And you’re part of ours forever. We truly love you,” responded Ayeshia, sporting a white sweatshirt featuring two pictures of Jayanna on the front and the words “Always on my mind, forever in my heart” on the back.
After the exchange, Bologna spoke about what it meant to him personally, and his district as a whole, including his officers and residents.
“When we all work together, just as human beings, and we all care for one another, this is how it’s supposed to work all the time,” he said before looking down at Jayanna’s image. “This little girl brought not only a family together, but a district and community more together.
“In the eight short years that she was alive, she accomplished more, actually making people search their hearts to find out what this is all about, meaning our life as human beings, looking out for each other and protecting each other. This support, this gesture, I’m speechless.”
The duo connected with the family not only because of the heinous nature of the crime, but because Jayanna’s family was there for Bologna when his father recently died, and Gramlich – like all other parents – realized that it very well could’ve been his 15- and 11-year-old children who fell victim to such a crime.
“It just doesn’t get any more personal than this,” Bologna said. “They will always have a void in their lives because of this, but we wanted to help them close that void a little bit.”
Jayanna was walking home from Lewis C. Cassidy elementary school when she was struck by a Nissan sedan near 63rd Street and Lansdowne Avenue in West Philadelphia around 3:15 p.m. on November 18.
The second grader, who was walking home with three siblings that Friday, would die hours later at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
When the driver took off from the scene, it sparked an intense investigation that saw the city and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 contributing to a reward fund that reached $45,000, and the police and community uniting to remember a young girl who died senselessly.
Paul Woodlyn, who lived several blocks away from the hit-and-run scene, was arrested after a tip led investigators to an auto body shop in Frazer, Chester County, on November 30. According to police, the 24-year-old confessed to being the driver upon arrest.
Woodlyn’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for January 31. He is charged with homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter and other offenses.
As for Jayanna’s family, therapy is helping them get through the shock and grief. So, too, did that Christmas morning trip to the cemetery where their little girl is buried.
Ayeshia said her 1-month-old nephew left a gift at the gravesite and everybody sang Jayanna’s favorite song “Love On Top.”
They also got Jayanna the Christmas gift she wanted: a talking, singing doll of Elsa from the movie “Frozen.” But they didn’t leave the doll at the cemetery after it sang "Let It Go."
“I told her it will always be on my mantle piece,” said Ayeshia. “And I told her she can come to hear it anytime she wants.”