It began with a scuffle in a fast food restaurant - kids from a rival neighborhood shoved a girl and threw things at her car. False rumors that she was raped swirled around her school.
Teenagers planned their revenge for days, and by Friday night they were ready. Three carloads of boys and girls from suburban Abington met at a mall, armed themselves with bats and bottles and drove into the Fox Chase neighborhood, just over the city line in northeast Philadelphia.They found their target near St. Cecilia's Roman Catholic Church. At least 20 youths chased 16-year-old Edward Polec and his friends, then bludgeoned Polec when he tripped and fell on the steps of the church where he used to be an altar boy.
Polec's skull was fractured. He died the next day.
"It was like `West Side Story,' " said Dene Harris, a juvenile probation officer assigned to Abington High School. "It was almost like a community murder, so many people were involved."
"Some kids were joking about renting a U-Haul to go down there," said Billy Baldwin, 17. "I probably would have gone with them if I would have been around. I'm pretty glad now that I didn't."
Thomas Crook, 18, Bou Khat-hav-ong, 17, and Nicholas Pinero, 16, surrendered Tuesday after police received anonymous tips about the attack. They were ordered held without bail Wednesday and will be tried as adults on charges of murder, aggravated assault and weapons violations, Capt. John Apeldorn said.
Crook admitted he was involved in the beating but said he didn't strike a fatal blow, according to investigators. Several people claimed Pinero bragged about killing someone, police said. Apeldorn said there will be more arrests.
Hundreds of mourners attended Polec's funeral Wednesday at St. Cecilia's. Bruises were clearly visible on the faces of some of his friends, who said they were too upset to talk.
Clare Upham, who works with Polec's mother as a crossing guard, said the family was devastated. "They are good people. They raised their children the right way. This just ruined them," Upham said.
Polec's family pleaded with boys in Fox Chase and at his school, Cardinal Dougherty, not to retaliate. But teenagers in Abington said they were worried about venturing out alone.
"Everybody's afraid. Nobody wants to get caught out there," said George Manton, 15.
The Abington Galloping Ghosts don't compete in sports against the Cardinals. Teenagers say the long-running feud is embedded in the two adjoining communities, both predominantly white and middle class, and that they regularly trade insults and fight each other.
Police wouldn't say if Polec had tangled with the Abington youths before. Baldwin, an Abington student, claimed Polec recently had been in a scuffle after stealing an Abington teen's baseball cap at a party.
Still, "nobody in their right mind was planning on going down there to kill anybody," Baldwin said.