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July 06, 2023

Camden County official won't apologize for telling 'gun-bearing freaks' from Philly to stay out of New Jersey

Commissioner Louis Cappelli Jr.'s comments came after a 6-year-old girl was shot at a fireworks show. Philly City Councilmember Kathrine Gilmore-Richardson called them 'unacceptable'

Crime Shootings
Camden Philly Cappelli Douglas Bovitt/The Courier-Post/USA Today

Louis Cappelli, Jr., director of the Camden County Board of Commissioners, vented about Philadelphia's crime problems during a press conference to address a Fourth of July shooting that injured a 6-year-old girl during a fireworks display in South Jersey.

Camden County Commissioner Louis Cappelli Jr. had strong words about Philadelphia after a 6-year-old girl was shot at a Fourth of July fireworks display in South Jersey.

Noting that one of the suspects in the shooting has a tie to Philly, Cappelli blamed the city for bringing violent crime into New Jersey. 

"We just want to send a clear message to the thugs and criminals and gun-bearing freaks over in Philadelphia, who live in a society of lawlessness," Cappelli said at a press conference Wednesday. "We don't want you here. Stay out of Camden. Stay out of Camden County. Stay out of New Jersey. Keep your barbaric behavior in Philadelphia."

The remarks drew a strong rebuke from Philadelphia City Councilmember Katherine-Gilmore Richardson, who said Cappelli's comments were "asinine" and warrant an apology for generalizing about Philly residents. Cappelli refused, saying his frustration is justified. 

The shooting happened around 10 p.m. Tuesday near Wiggins Park on the Delaware River waterfront. Police said a fight broke out between two groups of people and shots were fired. The 6-year-old girl was struck in the knee and taken to Cooper University Hospital to be treated for her injuries.

Camden County Deputy Police Chief Janell Simpson said three people were taken into custody after the shooting. They were later released as the investigation continues. A gun was recovered at the scene, but it wasn't clear whether the weapon was connected to the shooting. No charges have been filed at this time.

Gilmore-Richardson offered prayers for the girl who was injured, but said Cappelli went too far.

"I am extremely appalled by the derogatory statements made earlier today by Camden County Commissioner Director Louis Cappelli Jr.," Gilmore-Richardson said. "A majority of the 1.59 million residents of Philadelphia are self-respecting, law-abiding citizens. To insinuate that ALL Philadelphians are 'thugs,' 'criminals' and 'freaks' simply because one of the suspects in a shooting has 'a tie to Philadelphia' is completely unacceptable."

Cappelli, an attorney, has served as director of the Camden County Board of Commissioners since 2006. His comments also came in the wake of Monday night's mass shooting in Southwest Philadelphia, where a gunman with an AR-style rifle killed five people and wounded four others. Kimbrady Carriker, 40, was charged Wednesday with murder and related offenses. Police said the shooting was random and occurred after Carriker allegedly had shared alarming posts on social media.

Camden, once known as one of the most violent cities in the United States, has seen a dramatic decline in shootings over the last decade alongside police reforms. New Jersey also has stricter gun laws than Pennsylvania, and Camden County Police say the majority of untraceable ghost guns it seizes come from out of state. Recent years in Philadelphia have been among the most violent on record, although homicides and shootings have been trending down this year.

Gilmore-Richardson said Cappelli should be working on strengthening relationships in the region instead of making disparaging statements.

"I hope that he swiftly apologizes for his generalized comments and continues to welcome Philadelphians to Camden County as we will continue to work with and welcome Camden County, New Jersey residents who frequent our city on a daily basis with open arms," Gilmore-Richardson said. "I am always available to work together if he chooses to do so."

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Cappelli doubled down on his remarks. 

“I stand by all my comments from yesterday’s press conference," Cappelli said. "I would not change a word or modify anything related to my deep frustration with gun crime and an innocent 6-year-old having her life changed forever because her family simply wanted to come out to watch fireworks. These comments were focused on individuals that commit violent crime with illegal firearms and the brisk flow of illegal firearms in the city of Philadelphia that show up here in Camden County. This certainly wasn’t focused on the law-abiding citizens of the city and I think they are aware of that fact."

Cappelli said public figures shouldn't be afraid to talk about "some baseline facts" regarding violent crime. 

"Make no mistake, we all want a safer Philly because that makes our region stronger. That said, the public has seen levels of lawlessness in the city that is scarring a generation of young people and we will not accept that here," Cappelli said.