Who Killed Mecca Harris?

Two years later city cops are releasing new information to help solve the murder of a little girl.

By Steve Volk
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 9 | Posted Dec. 14, 2005

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Malette himself still can't believe it happened. "They were my routine," he says. "I saw them or talked to them on the phone every day."

The door to nowhere: The murders happened behind this basement door, in a house abandoned ever since.
Lezlie Hiner keeps a photo book filled with pictures of Mecca. Grinning at someone off-camera, Mecca seems innocence personified. Arrayed under her raven-black polo helmet, her expression pensive, she seems aware of the darkness around her.

In life and death she straddled two worlds, uniting them and revealing their deep divisions. The now-closed G and B riding stable where she got her start loomed as a kind of West Philly oasis where kids like her could escape the streets. But in the world of show horses and polo, such outfits are decried as "horse-killing stables," where untrained horsemen set their animals to galloping on cement, ruining their hooves.

In West Philly some in the Black Cowboys Association think of Lezlie Hiner as a threat-a woman with resources who seeks to adopt kids into her program like an alien colonizing the earth. "Lezlie is for Lezlie," says Russell Neugent.

Asked about Neugent, Sealve White and Pat Wright-the people who first trained Mecca Harris to love and care for horses-Lezlie Hiner doesn't even recognize their names.

What unites all these people now, across any boundaries of race and class, is their love for Mecca and their desire to see her killer caught. Black or white, rich or poor, everyone can see the beauty in Mecca Harris.

Watching video of her playing polo reveals the limitless depth of her tragedy. There she goes, sweeping down the left-hand side of the field, her mallet as long as her body, pushing the ball with a soccer player's certainty. There she is, fearlessly pushing her horse into her opponent, driving her off the ball.

The tape is all the sadder when she makes a mistake-failing to make contact with the ball or block her opponent's path-because such momentary lapses demonstrate her youth. But despite the brevity of her life, and the certainty of her death, Mecca Harris remains somehow vital-alive in spite of the sorry facts.

John Fields, a 13-year-old kid who lived around the corner from Mecca, intends to apply to the Thacher School in the hope of receiving the scholarship and the experience his friend never did. The two were close, spending lots of time at each other's houses, playing video games and goofing around. He says they never spoke about Mecca's opportunity to go to Thacher.

"We were just hanging out," he explains. "We were young, having fun." But even in his youth he appreciates the symbolism of his attempt to follow the path she illuminated.

"That's part of why I want to go," he says. "Mecca."

"I'll let him go in a second," says his mother Sarah. "Sure, I'll miss him. But that opportunity is too great-to meet different kinds of people, to see another part of the world."

It's a testament to Mecca Harris that in 14 years she impacted the world so strongly that her spirit lives on. It's a sad fact that her life's journey culminated at her funeral, when hundreds of people filled the streets near her house and marched on foot and on horseback to Baring Street's Metropolitan Baptist Church.

TV news cameras dutifully recorded the proceedings. And Det. Boyle says the police who attended all agreed: They'd never seen anything quite like it, such a spectacular funeral for a little girl.

Mecca's body was arrayed in a white coffin and pulled by a horse-drawn carriage. Beuda, the horse she rode in polo matches, followed with Mecca's boots on backward in the stirrups.

The little girl's transformation into a princess was complete. Her elevation into the realm of fairy tale and myth had crystallized. And now her loved ones sit and wait, wondering if her killer will ever be brought to justice, and lingering over memories of the girl who seemed certain to escape the streets she grew up on.


Steve Volk (svolk@philadelphiaweekly.com) last wrote about Doc Watson's preparing to open under new ownership.

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Comments 1 - 9 of 9
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1. Mrs. Yvonne Fields-Woodson said... on Jan 5, 2012 at 02:41AM

“As I write, I cry because I knew Mecca , Sheila and Fee-Fee back in 1990 when Mecca when was a charming 1 year old and Fee-Fee was a stunningly sweet going- on teenager. I had a daughter named Deloris and a new baby named Christopher with red hair. We shared friends like Stacey and her daughter Syreeta and Corrine and her kids as well as Wendy and her 2 daughters. We all shared a residence at 40th and Lancaster for about 2 years caring for each others kids like they were our own I loved all these women Shirley, Latavia because there we were family. Sheila and Shirley were like my big sisters (I'm an only child) Shirley taught me southern cooking secrets and how to be happy and Sheila taught me how to live thru all lifes bs. Sheila loves "Chookie looc" and her "Fee-Fee" because she told me one night in her room she knew her Princesses would be Great Queens one day and God answered her prayers and gave her that strong queens so I see Sheila and Mecca smiling cause nothing hurts no more I”

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2. Anonymous said... on Jan 16, 2012 at 06:03AM

“Mecca and family r.i.p it's ur dear friend I miss u and you will never be forgotten. One love”

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3. Callie Phillips said... on Jan 8, 2013 at 06:31AM

“We went to school together ... We rode horses together , We played basketball and football together she was like a Cousin to my family mecca and my grandpa was so close ...I remember this day like no other I was only 13 years old and cryed until there was no more tears left...Rip Mecca I live my life through my childhood friends that were lost in west Philadelphia gone but not forgotten”

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4. robert benn said... on Mar 22, 2013 at 01:22AM

“My cousin was Darrell bynum he was a good man despite his street life.... everyday I ask that the 3 souls that was sent back to heaven is in gods grace”

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5. Anonymous said... on Apr 28, 2013 at 08:31AM

“Darrell aka Brother was a pervert/asshole.
His day was coming!!! Rest in hell.”

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6. Cynquetta b. said... on May 31, 2013 at 10:07PM

“Never and I mean never was my uncle anything but sweet. No matter what lifestyle he may have lived, nobody deserved to be murdered! Those who feel that way should look in the mirror. I lived with all 3 and I loved them all! Until we meet again ?✌”

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7. Anonymous said... on Oct 16, 2013 at 09:52PM

“How disgusting for this Neugent person to badmouth Hiner, whom he doesn't even know, when she has devoted her life to helping children. Shame on him and any others as indicated by the author in this "Black Cowboys Assoc.". They better clean up their act and stop acting like prejudiced bigots. If they were angels who taught children to ride, that's good. But they should not begrudge other angels merely because of their skin color. Something is VERY wrong there...

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8. Nifeesia said... on May 11, 2015 at 06:29AM

“I would like to say that I thank you all for your kind words and beautiful memories of my family. Yvonne!!!! Love you and I know your family has grown up beautifully . I miss you and your family.

This was the 1st time I revisited this article online since its making. Wow! Memories flooded back to that time and tears had no choice but to pour out on the complete tragedy of that day and time.

Loving memories is all that I will forever hold! Again thanks to all who shared.”

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9. Porche Morris said... on Sep 25, 2015 at 09:33AM

“Sitting here thinking about you Mecca, my eyes all watery man I miss you & love you so much...Continue to Rest In Peace”


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