How SEPTA helped reunite families during the North Philly police shootout

The transit authority is an undersung player in the city’s emergency response.

Children and parents were reunited after the shooting

Emma Lee / WHYY

Tiffany Burrus got the call from her aunt at 4:45 p.m. on Wednesday. Precious Babies Learning Academy, the daycare near Broad and Tioga where she sends her 3-year-old son, was under lockdown.

The kids were being evacuated. On the news. Active shooter.

“I just started crying,” Burrus said. “[I was scared] they were going to get into my son’s daycare.”

That afternoon, a narcotics search warrant had gone very wrong around the corner from Precious Babies. A gunman opened fire on police officers in the street, spraying bullets at adjacent properties down the block.

But Burrus’ worst fears would not come true, thanks to the swift actions of daycare staff, local law enforcement — and another unlikely responder.

The largest public transit agency in Pennsylvania.

Three torturous, nail-biting hours after Burus got the phone call, she made her way as close as she could to the cordoned off the scene of the sight. There, sitting in the air-conditioned blue of a SEPTA bus on Germantown Avenue, her son was playing happily with his classmates.

SEPTA workers, first responders and daycare staff handed him over to Burrus, and waited for the last of the parents and caregivers to arrive for their children.

The bus venue was no accident.

It was one of 11 vehicles deployed by SEPTA as an emergency operations measure to assist city police and first responders as chaos unfolded near Broad and Erie — and the buses did more than provide shelter for terrified toddlers throughout the chaotic night.

septabus-shooting

Max Marin / Billy Penn

SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch confirmed the transit agency originally deployed the impromptu fleet to serve as cooling stations for police and first responders. Amid torrents of rain and drawn out negotiations with the barricaded shooter, the transit vehicles also ferried officers back and forth between the North 15th Street scene to the police department’s downtown headquarters.

Fleet dispatch is a standard if unnoticed part of SEPTA’s response to all-hands-on emergencies like Wednesday’s shootout, which ended with the alleged gunman’s surrender shortly after midnight.

“Some of the same resources we use to move riders every day can be quickly repurposed to assist with emergency responses in the City of Philadelphia and throughout SEPTA’s service area,” Busch said. “SEPTA buses can serve a number of purposes, from providing temporary shelter at a scene to transporting people who have been displaced.”

With the Broad Street Line located just a block from the shooting, Transit Police were also nearby to lend a hand to the myriad other officers on sight.

Busch said SEPTA Special Operations Response Team (SORT) assisted other law enforcement agencies at the shooting scene.

SEPTA Police’s SWAT team was also deployed, Busch said, though they were not needed. The transit agency also sent out a number of the department’s K9 units and even its own police drones to the scene (though neither were used).

“SEPTA and the Transit Police work very closely with our partners in the region,” Busch said, “to ensure that these resources are ready to be deployed in crisis situations.”