Mourners flee during funeral as church floor collapses

By David O’Reilly Inquirer Staff Writer

North Philadelphia — An estimated 250 mourners fled a North Philadelphia church Friday morning when the floor collapsed during a funeral for a man shot by police. No one was injured at the Second Baptist Church of Nicetown on the 3800 block of Germantown Avenue, but the event frightened mourners and neighbors.

The funeral was for Lawrence Ward, 23, who was shot and killed by police on May 21 after officers responded to a fight Ward was having with Kendall Wood, 43, over a handgun. Officers fired and killed both men when they refused to drop the gun.

“I heard a loud crack, then the floor dropped and the pews fell” toward the center of the sanctuary, said mourner Nikki Smith of North Philadelphia. “Everybody panicked.”

Smith ran to the front of the sanctuary, which did not collapse, but she said most in attendance ran to the back and outside.

Gregory Coleman, caretaker of the church, said the center and rear of the floor buckled about 10 a.m.

“They came running out like ants,” said a man across the street. “At first I thought it was a fire, or maybe somebody was shooting.”

The witness, who declined to give his name, said mourners had formed a long line outside the church before the service. “About five minutes after the last went in, they came running back.”

Ward’s casket was at the front of the sanctuary and was unaffected by the collapse. Witnesses speculated that the large crowd overloaded a weak support beam below the floor.

Several fire companies and first aid squads responded. The funeral was moved to the Choice Funeral Home on North Broad Street.

By early afternoon, approaches to the mid-size stone structure were blocked by traffic cones and cordoned off with yellow caution tape. The exterior doors bore vivid orange signs reading “Danger, Keep Out.”

No one answered at the doors, which were locked, and no one returned a call for comment. A cornerstone on the church bears the date 1894.

Source :  The Philadelphia Inquirer

Contact staff writer David O’Reilly at 215-854-5723 or doreilly@phillynews.com.

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