Two years later city cops are releasing new information to help solve the murder of a little girl.
Det. Chuck Boyle strides across the office carrying a cardboard box. He closes the door to the interview room, sits down and starts rifling through crime-scene photos: snapshots of Daryl Bynum, his girlfriend Sheila Harris and her daughter Mecca.
"Usually, on a case like this," he says, "we'd at least be getting some jailhouse talk. But not this time. There's nothing."
Boyle, a chain-smoker who inhales as if he's trying to pull a pingpong ball through a garden hose, curls his lips in disgust. "We know who did this," he says. "We're as certain as we can be without having made an arrest. We just don't have enough yet to ensure a conviction."
Being so close to solving a triple murder that includes a child victim sits somewhere near the center of homicide detective hell. So the box remains in Boyle's thoughts. He hopes one day to heft it to the desk of a city prosecutor who will pull the lid off and let it speak.
Since Oct. 14, 2003, when the murders took place, Boyle and his partner Jeff Piree have filled the box with interview transcripts-94 files totaling some 30 pounds. The pair even sat down with their chief suspect.
But instead of confessing to what he'd done or betraying some sense of remorse, the killer laughed. Homicide detective hell got a little hotter.
Cops are famous for losing their cynicism in the face of a child victim. And Boyle can tell from looking at how the bodies fell that 14-year-old Mecca Liles-Harris, the youngest victim in this triple homicide, was shot last.
The information forces Boyle, a tall man with a thin, sad face, inside his own imagination. "No one can tell me," he says, "what must have gone through this little girl's mind. No doctor. No psychologist. No lawyer. Imagine the terror. She sees her mother's boyfriend shot. She sees her mother murdered. And then she sees that gun swinging up to her, and she knows she's next. Try to imagine that. Try. You can't."
But Boyle can do one thing.
He can open the box.
The Philadelphia Police Department authorized him to do exactly that in the hope that showing the public what's inside might awaken a stalled investigation.
On old videos Mecca Harris remains a small, sprightly wonder, 90 pounds of determination controlling a thousand-pound horse.
"Mecca had no fear" is a common refrain, a mourner's chorus for a girl who played basketball and football with the boys, who took boxing lessons and rode horses like she was born in the wild West.
But the wild West Mecca Harris hailed from was West Phila-delphia, where she grew up at 42nd and Aspen, raised by a single mother who worked as a nurse's aide.
Most adults remember her as quiet and sweet. Kids and close relatives recall a different girl-a funny kid who gave as good as she got, whose life took shape when she started attending the nearby G and B Riding Academy, which in the fall of 1997 sat on North Brooklyn Street, around the corner from her home.
"She was waiting to be let in when someone arrived to give the horses their morning feed," remembers Pat Wright, who volunteered at the stable. "She'd go to school, come back and stay until we closed. She'd be the last to leave. Summer. Winter. Didn't make no difference."
"She showed me how to close that big barn door," says Sealve White. "I didn't usually close up. But she'd seen it done before. So she started dragging this big metal bar to lever the door shut."
Mecca Harris had fallen under the spell of the Black Cowboys Association, a Philadelphia institution that offers kids in the city's toughest neighborhoods the chance to claim a path out of the 'hood on horseback. They started Mecca off on a pony named Sapphire, but she soon graduated to Coco, a horse no one else could ride.
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PW's Fall Guide 2014
PW's 2014 College Issue