Riley McDowell, 16, was shot and killed on November 29, 2019, on the 900 block of Louisa St. in Williamsport. He is the second teenager to die from gun violence in the city in four months. Photo provided

On Friday night, November 29, 2019, around 7 p.m., the sound of gunshots rang out near the 900 block of Louisa St. in Williamsport. Police were summoned to find a gunshot victim, 16-year-old Riley McDowell, in the street. He is the second young man shot to death in the city in as little as four months.

While the family comes to grips with the loss of their child, the Williamsport Bureau of Police finds themselves investigating yet another violent crime. Police Chief Damon Hagan wouldn’t speculate on whether or not the recent crimes are related, only that the police force is actively following up on leads. “We are, unfortunately, getting a lot of experience in responding to violent crime,” he said, “but at a huge cost.”

On July 30, 2019, 16-year-old Ayliem Coleman died from a gunshot wound on Market St. in Williamsport. His murder is yet unsolved.

The Bureau is admittedly busy. In 2019, the department has logged over 12,000 incidents, including five homicides with a month to go. That’s considerably more than in 2018, said Chief Hagan. Last year they investigated one homicide and five armed robberies in addition to the regular calls coming into the Bureau. “Some of it could be that the officers are being more proactive,” he said. “Residents might also be reporting more, but we have definitely seen a change.”

Chief Hagan said cooperation, communication, and professionalism with the public is a key in deterring future violent crime. “I can’t stress enough the importance of reporting,” he said. He encourages the public to call in tips, “where weapons are stashed, where someone is hiding out. We need to take what the kids are saying seriously. Kids need to report what they know to their parents, school officials, the police.” 

A large piece in solving the shootings and other major crime is following up on reported tips. “We can catch violent offenders if we get them before they act, and most who participate in violent crimes are involved in illegal activity before they happen,” Chief Hagan said, again encouraging people to report what they know.

In the meantime, the investigation into Riley McDowell’s death is in full swing, and Chief Hagan feels confident the current unsolved cases will be resolved.

A friend of the family known to Riley and all of the neighborhood kids as “Aunt Val” spoke with about the boy who just a few days ago helped her change the tire on his cousin’s car. She took care of Riley when he was a baby and watched him grow up. She said Riley loved his sisters. He loved baseball, his friends, his family. “A lot of children are devastated,” she said. 

All the community can do at this point, she said, rather than guess at who was responsible or why this happened, is to wait for police to conduct their investigation for answers. 

“Riley will be very, very, very missed. He’s loved. And we hope for answers so we can let him rest,” she said.