A group of children claimed Thursday evening that they hung a black baby doll from a noose at a Philadelphia playground to "creep people out" — an action that prompted a police investigation and swift condemnation from spiritual and city leaders.
The doll was discovered Thursday afternoon in a tree at the Weccacoe Playground at 4th and Queen streets in the city’s Queen Village section. The site is historic as it was the former burial ground for Mother Bethel AME Church, one of the nation's original black congregations.
The display angered many including Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, Mother Bethel AME’s senior pastor, who called it a "hate crime."
"For our people, there was a time when they weren't baby dolls, but they were real people and real bodies," Tyler said on a Facebook Live. "That didn't stop us and this won't either."
Shortly after 6 p.m., a group of boys — all under the age of 13 and of mixed races — walked up to NBC10 reporter Rosemary Connors and photojournalist John Panfile and claimed they hung the doll.
Tyler, the pastor, took the boys aside and let them explain why they decided to hang the doll. According to Tyler, the boys claimed they found the doll on the roof of a structure in the park and found it "creepy."
"They thought like little boys [do], Let’s use it to creep people out," Tyler said. "Later they found the noose, the hangman’s noose, and thought better to put the noose around the baby doll’s neck and just hang it in an area to scare people."
"They had no idea about the historical legacy of lynching, what that image would do, the terror that it put into people," Tyler added.
Tyler called Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross to share what the boys told him. Tyler said he was told surveillance video from the park appeared to corroborate the boys’ story.
"Unfortunately, this is a perfect storm. The wrong prank, the wrong place, the wrong time," Tyler said.
Police have not yet commented on the new developments and whether the boys will face charges.
The incident, which quickly mushroomed to garner national attention online via social media, prompted denouncements from multiple city officials including Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, who called it a "despicable act" that left him "sickened." The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case.
Asked for comment in light of the boys' claims, Kenney's spokesman said the mayor's statement is unchanged.
Despite the furor, Tyler said he’s heartened that the boys came forward to fess up.
"I can’t say enough about these kids who were not compelled to come by their parents, their parents didn’t force them, but who came on their own and told the truth when they realized this was a bigger story than they thought," Tyler said.