ABOVE INSERT PHOTO: This booking photo provided by the Philadelphia Police Department shows Miles Pfeffer. Pfeffer will face charges of murder, murder of a law enforcement officer, robbery, carjacking and weapons crimes in the death of Temple University Police Officer Christopher Fitzgerald, who prosecutors said was shot in the head while responding to an incident near campus. He also faces a slew of charges in the subsequent carjacking. (Philadelphia Police Department via AP)
By Ron Todt
PHILADELPHIA — Authorities say the quick apprehension of two youths after a Temple University police officer was shot and killed near the north Philadelphia campus led to an arrest just hours later in a neighboring county.
Officer Christopher Fitzgerald, 31, spotted three people dressed in black and wearing masks Saturday night in an area where there had been a series of robberies and carjackings, police said. He chased the trio, and after two of them hid he continued to pursue the third and was fatally shot.
A patrol supervisor monitoring the police radio rushed to the scene and captured two fleeing youths, ages 16 and 17, who later gave information that led to the arrest of 18-year-old Miles Pfeffer the following morning in Bucks County, Staff Inspector Ernest Ransom, the homicide unit commander, told reporters Tuesday.
Fitzgerald was the first Temple University officer killed in the line of duty, said Jennifer Griffin, the university’s public safety director. A father of five children, he joined the school’s police force in October 2021.
Police said video from the area shows Fitzgerald catching up with Pfeffer and ordering him to the ground, after which they struggle behind a sport utility vehicle. Pfeffer allegedly pulled a handgun, and police say he shot six times, firing the last three bullets into the officer as he lay on the ground.
“He (Pfeffer) comes back to the officer and then attempts to remove the officer’s handgun, which was unsuccessful,” Ransom said. Running to the next block, Pfeffer allegedly carjacked someone and “is heard on camera saying ‘Give me the car or I will kill you,’” Ransom said.
He was arrested Sunday morning at a sprawling 18th century farm property in upscale Buckingham, Bucks County, apparently co-owned by his mother. Several weapons were recovered there, but not the murder weapon, police said.
Pfeffer, who turned 18 last month, attended New Hope Academy, which describes itself as a private school for adolescents with social, emotional or other problems or those who fail to thrive in traditional settings, a school official said.
He also spent part of his day at Middle Bucks Institute of Technology, a vocational high school, a spokeswoman said. He had started in that program in September 2020 and last attended on Thursday, she said.
A retired school bus driver told a local newspaper that Pfeffer rode his bus for two years, spoke of wanting to work on an oil rig and never gave him any trouble.
“There was never any indication he was a problem,” former driver Thomas Beahm told The Bucks County Courier Times. “It’s so hard to understand.”
Efforts to reach Pfeffer’s family members on Tuesday proved unsuccessful as phone numbers linked to them were either not working or no longer accepting messages.
He is charged with murder, criminal homicide of a law enforcement officer, disarming an officer, robbery, theft, evading arrest and weapons crimes. In the subsequent carjacking, he faces robbery, theft, terroristic threatening and other charges.
Prosecutors said no charges were filed against anyone else and declined to comment on whether such charges might be filed. If investigators find any information on the earlier robberies and carjackings, it would be provided to prosecutors, Ransom said.
The Defender Association of Philadelphia said Pfeffer’s case was assigned to the office Tuesday; a representative declined to comment on the charges.
Mayor Jim Kenney and District Attorney Larry Krasner spoke emotionally about the officer’s death and renewed their calls for changes to gun laws. Kenney called Pennsylvania “a gun-crazy state” where arguments can turn into fatal shootings.
University president Jason Wingard said the school cannot fulfill its mission of providing a world-class education if it can’t keep students safe
“We need help. The systemic violence that plagues this city, that plagues north Philadelphia, can’t be solved by Temple alone,” Wingard said.
Fitzgerald’s father — a former Philadelphia police commander and now chief of another department — spoke about how proud his son was to be an officer, the school’s public safety director said.
“He was working to change the trajectory of increased violence in Philadelphia, and now it is up to us to continue his work,” Griffin said, her voice breaking.
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