Philly teen’s future snatched away by ambush killer

Hours before he was murdered, Jurtomu Joshua Vesslee, 16, was dreaming about his future. 

“He called me the day he was shot to ask me to buy sneakers for the college tour,” Vesslee’s mother, Victoria Vesslee, recalled through her tears in a recent interview inside a friend’s West Philly office. He called on a Friday, already excited to tour Temple University, where he had been attending summer classes, that Monday. “That was the last conversation I ever had with my son.”

Vesslee’s future was snatched away from him when he and Ahmed Brown, 20, were shot to death on Aug. 4 in Colwyn Borough after unwittingly walking into what investigators described as a cold-blooded ambsuh.

“It appeared that it was going to be a fistfight, and somebody had different plans,” said Det. Tim Deery of the Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division, who is investigating the double murder. “We believe he was brought in from Philadelphia to do the shooting.”

The conflict was reportedly over a feud that grew on social media, involving participants from Colwyn, Darby and Southwest Philly.

The victims were reportedly walking to meet the opposing group just after 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 4 near 4th and Walnut streets in Colwyn.

As two groups spoke, the gunman approached the two victims from behind, police said, and unleashed 10 shots, killing Vesslee and Brown. A 15-year-old victim looked behind him at the last minute, saw the gun and ran — taking a bullet to the arm but saving his own life, according to the Vesslee family.

No witnesses have identified the shooter, who was caught on grainy surveillance camera footage.

“The person that did this shooting, he has no idea the wound, the vacuum he left within me,” Victoria Vesslee said. “I’m constantly searching, thinking that I see my son walking toward me.”

Vesslee’s parents are unaware of the nature of the feud that led to their son’s death. They thought he was just going out to get food. (Brown’s family could not be reached for comment).

Vesslee, a student at the Science and Leadership Academy charter school, had just completed a summer STEM program at Temple, and aspired to be a nurse-practitioner. He would have turned 17 in December. The parents, and their two twin daughters, Vesslee’s older sisters, are devastated by the loss, they said.

“I am constantly in tears, because I know I will never have a chance to see my son again,” Victoria said. “I don’t sleep. I can’t eat. I don’t know how I’m going to get through this.”

David, 59, a cabbie, and Victoria, 45, a resident counselor at a behavioral health program, are Liberian immigrants who raised their children in Southwest Philly. With six weeks gone by, they are suffering both from the loss of their son and knowing his killer is walking free.

“It seems like the case has gone cold very fast,” David said.

Deery said he is working on the case every day, but urged the public to examine the shooter’s picture to help identify him “It is a very active investigation, and we hope to have a break in this soon,” he said. 

Vesslee, who his dad calls Tomu and his mom calls Joshua, was remembered by his parents as a happy young man who often played peacemaker when friends had disputes, loved football and basketball, and helped neighbors unload groceries.

“He had a very great future,” Victoria said.

Now, instead of working to help him get to college like his sisters, the Vesslees are passing out flyers with pictures of his killer and praying someone will bring the man responsible to justice. Not for their son. But for the other youths around Philly at risk from gun violence, which is “tearing people apart,” as Victoria put it.

“It will not bring Joshua back,” Victoria said of capturing his killer, “but it could save other children.”

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call Delaware County Criminal Investigations at 610-891-4700.

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