The Philadelphia Inquirer
Last February, Miles Pfeffer was arrested for sending anonymous threats to a Bucks County high school, according to three law enforcement sources.
The 18-year-old was one of three students who used an online reporting tool to alert Central Bucks South that a homemade pipe bomb was going to detonate in a bathroom. A second report warned that a student planned to bring a gun to school, said the sources, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the case.
For the threats — neither of which were founded, the sources said — Pfeffer was adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court and sentenced to one month’s probation.
Philadelphia police say his actions one year later, on Saturday night, had far graver consequences.
Pfeffer has been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Christopher Fitzgerald, a Temple University police officer, and also stands accused of carjacking a bystander, before having his mother pick him up from North Philadelphia to drive him home to Boxley Farm, their 15-acre property in Buckingham Township. It is not clear what, if anything, he told her about what he had done that night.
On Monday, as Pfeffer sat in Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, investigators worked to piece together the teen’s background.
The threats that forced students to shelter in place before they were sent home for the day came in on Nov. 16, 2021, through Safe2Say, an online system run by the state Attorney General’s Office, police in Warrington Township said at the time.
A sweep of the building found neither weapons nor explosive devices, police said. Investigators tracked the threats to the three authors using cell phone data, the sources said. One teen was arrested days after the threats were received, but Pfeffer and the third were charged a few months later.
Aside from that arrest, Pfeffer had no major contact with law enforcement in Bucks County, according to the sources.
Pfeffer attended school in the Central Bucks district until September 2019, according to Angela Linch, a spokesperson for the district.
Linch did not respond to questions about the bomb threats at the high school.
Pfeffer shot Fitzgerald, a 31-year-old father of four, near 17th Street and Montgomery Avenue just after 7:12 p.m. on Saturday, according to the affidavit of probable cause for his arrest. After the Temple police officer fell to the ground, Pfeffer stood over him and fired several shots into his face and head — then tried to steal his gun and rummaged through his pockets, the affidavit said. The shooting was captured on video.
According to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, Fitzgerald had chased after Pfeffer while investigating a possible crime near the edge of Temple’s campus. Details of what precipitated their encounter remained unclear Monday. One law enforcement source, who requested anonymity to discuss the investigation, said Pfeffer’s younger brother told detectives after the shooting that Fitzgerald had noticed them acting “shady” while they were in the area with a third youth, who eventually walked away.
The two brothers started running when the officer approached them, according to the affidavit, and the younger brother ducked into an alleyway. Pfeffer continued running, chased by Fitzgerald, the affidavit said. After that, the brother told detectives, he heard gunshots.
Shortly after the shooting, Pfeffer stole a man’s Infiniti Q60 at gunpoint, threatening to kill him, the document said. No one else has been charged in connection with Fitzgerald’s death.
On the Boxley Farm property Monday, a man close to Pfeffer’s family expressed sadness and disbelief at the allegations against the teenager. “If I want the media to know anything about that child, it’s that he’s a good kid,” said the man, who requested his name be withheld for privacy concerns. “There was no inclination he would ever do anything like that.”
Meanwhile, a GoFundMe started on behalf of Fitzgerald’s family had raised close to $300,000 by Monday afternoon, far surpassing its original goal of $100,000.
That outpouring of support was matched by calls for accountability from Temple by parents worried about student safety.
Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon sees the safety issues around the university as both a parent who has a son living just blocks from campus and chair of the school’s faculty senate.
“The faculty and the students, as well as some of the parent groups, are really, really concerned,” said Williams-Witherspoon, who sat on Temple’s violence reduction task force.
She understands that concern. As a parent, she worries, too, about her son, a Temple student who lives near campus. She requires him to check in with her every night, even if it’s just to text the word home.
“That’s the only way I sleep at night,” she said. She said she believes that the university is doing everything it can to keep students and employees safe and that the campus itself is very safe. It’s the area around it that poses problems, but Temple is far from alone, she said.
“It is not just Temple University,” she said. “It is a problem that the nation is having. When you’re in an urban setting, you have to deal with the realities of that place.”
Her son, she said, is getting a great education at Temple, and she’s glad he’s there. “We are one of the best values for your money,” she said. “But we are in the heart of the city, as many universities are. It means that our young people, as well as our parents, have to be aware of that.”
Tom Kline, the lawyer for the family of Samuel Collington, a Temple student who was shot to death off campus in 2021, has closely watched reports of Fitzgerald’s killing. He said the officer’s death is further evidence that the university needs to do more to keep students and employees safe in the area around the campus where many students live.
“There needs to be a comprehensive plan with urgency and priority,” he said. “It’s just such a terrible tragedy and the security at Temple and in the city needs to be improved. It’s clear to me that the campus and the city is shaken to its core, and that happened when young Sam was gunned down, and now we see a police officer … gunned down.”
A viewing for Fitzgerald is set for Thursday, from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at John F. Givnish Funeral Home, 10975 Academy Rd., in Northeast Philadelphia. A second viewing on Friday from 8 to 11:30 a.m. at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, 1723 Race St., in Center City, will precede a Mass. Burial will follow at Forest Hills Cemetery, 101 Byberry Rd., Huntingdon Valley.
Inquirer staff writers Maddie Hanna and Jesse Bunch contributed to this report
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