Wilkinsburg Shooting

On March 9, 2016, five people and one unborn child were killed when two shooters slipped into the backyard of a Wilkinsburg residence, firing at the small party and injuring three others. Cheron Shelton and Robert Thomas were charged later that year. Authorities say it was an act of retribution from an earlier crime.

This is a collection of 90.5 WESA's continuing coverage.

Allegheny County Police

A Pennsylvania judge has dismissed drug and weapons charges stemming from a 2013 case against two men who were later charged in an ambush at a Wilkinsburg cookout that killed five adults and an unborn child last year.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge David Cashman on Monday granted a dismissal request from defense attorneys for 29-year-old Cheron Shelton and 27-year-old Robert Thomas along with a third defendant in the drug case, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

Virginia Alvino Young / 90.5 WESA

Franklin Avenue in Wilkinsburg is a mostly uneventful place these days.

“It’s been quiet,” said Jackie Pendleton, who’s lived in the borough northeast of Pittsburgh for 34 years. “It’s been quiet since that incident took place down the street.”

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Vanessa McCarthy-Johnson was scrambling to organize her community at this time last year. The Wilkinsburg Borough councilwoman said she felt there was a need to come together after five people, including a pregnant woman, were murdered at a backyard barbecue in the neighborhood.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA


The Wilkinsburg School District has seen a high turnover in leadership in the last several years. It’s on the state’s watch list for low academic performance which, combined with declining enrollment, led to the closure of its middle and high school in May. 

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

Two men ambushed a backyard cookout near Pittsburgh, killing a pregnant woman, her 8-month-old fetus and four other adults, because they wanted retribution for the 2013 slaying of a friend, authorities said Thursday.

Robert Thomas, 27, and Cheron Shelton, 29, both face five counts of criminal homicide, one count of homicide of an unborn child, three counts of aggravated assault, three more of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, six counts of reckless endangerment and one count of criminal conspiracy to commit murder. 

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

  Interim Wilkinsburg High School Principal Shawn Johnston’s voice reverberated through the intercom into bare, empty hallways on the second to last day of school. Packing boxes had arrived in the office.

Students weren’t in the building as teachers finished grades and prepared for the school to permanently close following Friday’s 7 p.m. graduation. Their last full day in the school was Wednesday.

"I really hate it, you know, because there are a lot of memories here," said Roxanne Robinson, who graduated in the 1970s.

In 1680, English nobleman Edward Coke codified his country's common law regarding fetal homicide.

"[T]his is a great misdemeanour, and no murder," Coke wrote of the intentional death of a fetus in utero "by Potion, Battery, or other cause."

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

From a corridor outside the intake bays at the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office, chief examiner Karl Williams takes a mental inventory.

"Thirteen-hundred cases, 1,600 items in every year, around 150,000 tests," he said. "You can’t do analyses of every piece of potential evidence you get in, but we’ve always got it."

Homicides committed outside city limits make up just a fraction of the deaths Williams’ county-wide office oversees, but most murders are evaluated in tandem by multiple agencies, including county and municipal police, pathologists and a spectrum of other agencies tasked with a battery of supplemental tasks.

Virginia Alvino / 90.5 WESA

Hundreds of residents filled South Avenue United Methodist Church in Wilkinsburg on Saturday to talk about crime and community development following Thursday's shooting that killed five people, including a pregnant woman.

Among community members and leaders was Michael Walker, whose son, Jerry Shelton, died in the mass shooting.

“My son was my oldest," Walker told the crowd. "He was a good man. A good, caring and loving man.”

Very Smart Brothas

  Last week’s mass shooting in Wilkinsburg provoked strong reactions within the neighborhood, across the city and in national media.

Writer and former Wilkinsburg High School teacher Damon Young offered one of them on his blog, Very Smart Brothas.

He writes that crime, failing schools and declining property values are "not unintended coincidences or even unfortunate inevitabilities," but "intentional results of Pittsburgh’s decades-long disregard of its black population.”

90.5 WESA’s Josh Raulerson asked Young to elaborate.

Guy Wathen / Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Reporters rushed to the scene of the shooting in Wilkinsburg in the early hours Thursday to document the shooting deaths and injuries of nine people. Among them, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review multimedia journalist Guy Wathen worked with fellow still photographers to give the paper's online readers a sense of the borough gripped by tragedy.

Wathen spoke with 90.5 WESA’s Larkin Page-Jacobs about his experience.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Borough Councilman Michael Rose posted a snapshot of crime statistics in his community on Facebook just one day before at least two shooters killed six and injured three in an ambush-style shooting in Wilkinsburg.

Aggravated assaults and motor vehicle thefts are up about 40 percent over the past five years, but arson, robbery, burglary and larceny are all down, according to a recent police report, he said.

"You know people say, 'Oh, Wilkinsburg. That stuff happens all the time.' No, it doesn't happen all the time. It's not really who we are, but it's who people think that we are," Rose said.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Updated 4:35 p.m. March 14, 2016.

Robert Morris, 15, glanced across the street and back down.

“I think everybody’s just a little tense right now,” the Propel Braddock Hills High School freshman said. 

Morris heard the gun shots before 11 p.m. Wednesday while watching television with his dad. He rolled off the couch into a ball, "to make myself as small as possible," he said.

Describing the scene, Morris looked again across the street where police say six people died from gunshot wounds sustained in an ambush-style attack.

Bill Thompson / flickr

Two gunmen are still at large following the deadly shooting of five people and an unborn child in Wilkinsburg last night. Police say four women and a man were shot ambush-style during a party and three others were injured and taken to area hospitals. 

We'll hear from 90.5 WESA reporter Noah Brode, who is following the story and attending a news conference with District Attorney Stephen Zappala. We'll also talk with Wilkinsburg school administrators and community businesses about their thoughts on the incident.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Updated 3:37 p.m.  

When Carl Morris orders pizza, delivery drivers ask which side of Ardmore Boulevard he lives on. He tells them it's the east side of Franklin Avenue -- the "good half of Wilkinsburg."

Morris and family huddled in their home late Wednesday night when at least two shooters opened fire on a backyard party across the street at 1304 Franklin Ave. The pair killed six people and injured three in the borough just east of Pittsburgh.