RIP Luke

As I was heading to the Richmond Shops, I noticed an active camp under Interstate 95. It was in the recently completed section that links Port Richmond, Kensington, and Fishtown to the Deleware River (sort of) and the bike lanes along Columbus Ave. It includes dedicated bike lanes, a number of flood mitigation ponds, and a series of parking lots.

I pulled into one of the parking lots where there were several other derelict-looking vehicles, some of which were being slowly deconstructed, and others which were clearly serving as shelters. I crossed a street that runs between large pillars that hold up 95, and I spotted on a ground a large memorial. As I approached, a man turned and shuffled away. But after a few minutes, my attention to the memorial brought him back.

The memorial at that time consisted of 10-12 candles, some desiccated flowers, and some other small items, including a handwritten note, all arranged inside a large, dark blue heart that had been spray-painted on the pavement between two pillars. Nearby, a large RiP had also been spray-painted in black. Visible beneath the blue was a message that I found puzzling until I heard the story. The words “He Dead” had been painted there in black with a large black arrow pointing to where the body had been. There was still dark stains of what I learned was blood on the concrete. The shooter had stopped to gloat over the shooting and painted these words, mocking his victim.

I want to be careful about the details I learned talking to people about this, because I am still not completely clear on the disposition of the case. A records search turned up a man who appears to match the name, description, and age on charges that appear connected. But I have also seen several flyers throughout the neighborhood with pictures of Mr. Cordero, Shawn Brown, the alleged shooter, and Amber Gault, who had estranged children with Cordero. I have also seen several posts on social media (Reddit, Facebook on the Found in Kensington group, and TikTok) identifying these individuals and offering a cash reward for information about the whereabouts of Gault and Brown.

Wanted Poster seeking information about two individuals connected to the shooting of Lucas Cordero.

In one of these social media posts, the original poster (OP) claimed that Gault lured Cordero: “She had him come to the location where he was shot and killed,” claims a post on Reddit. This differs from what other people told me about the incident.

I have returned several times, including on the published dates when the City of Philadelphia scheduled the encampment to be cleaned out. Most of the initial features remain in place, but with the addition of more candles, bricks to build a protective barrier on the ground. I learned from people living in the encampment that the shrine were being tended by a man living there. He told me he had found many of the items and arranged them out of concern for the family and friends who were visiting the site.

According to the literature on street memorials, this is a common practice–so common that we have a term for it, “ritual expert.” A ritual expert, according to Irene Stengs, is an ordinary person who currates, tends to, cleans, and protects the shrine. In this case, the ritual expert had been tending the shrine by arranging elements, erecting barriers out of bricks, and incorporating elements of his own that he found while picking through dumpsters at the many businesses and construction sites nearby.

I have returned on a couple of occasions since the removal of the encampment. While I have noticed tents and vehicles reappearing in the parking lots and around the pillars holding up 95, I have not been able to find any of the individuals I spoke with around the time of Cordero’s death. They seem to have drifted away. But the memorial remains.

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