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A Philadelphia teenager accused of fatally shooting his twin brother was cleared on Wednesday morning.
Fayaadh Gillard, grinning and flanked by dozens of friends and family, walked out of a Philadelphia courthouse around 10 a.m. after prosecutors dropped the charges against him. Gillard, 18, had faced murder and obstruction charges after his brother Suhail was killed by a single bullet to the chest at their father’s west Philadelphia home on Dec. 1.
The twins’ family, however, insisted the shooting was a tragic accident.
“This is what was meant to happen — this is the proper justice — simple and plain as that,” Fayaadh's older brother, Nafis Woods, 23, told Oxygen.com after leaving court on Wednesday.
Roughly 100 family, friends, teachers and community leaders gathered at the courthouse in support of Fayaadh on Wednesday. In a gesture of solidarity, the teen and his friends threw up four fingers for the cameras — commemorating Suhail's football jersey number. The family’s lawyer described the scene as “jubilee.”
“This is a tremendous weight off our chest," the twins’ uncle Hasan Ford told Oxygen.com. “Hopefully we can start beginning to put the pieces to this puzzle back together in our life, moving on and trying to honor our nephew by doing the best that we can.”
Ford, 44, said the family was overjoyed that Fayaadh’s name had been cleared but noted the legal victory was bittersweet.
“At the end of the day we still lost Suhail,” he said.
Suhail, an outgoing high school football star, was killed after a pistol Fayaadh was handling discharged, hitting him once in the chest as he sat across the table from his brother in their father’s living room.
In a video filmed by Suhail moments before his death, the boys’ father, Aleem Gillard, can be seen wielding a pistol from a wheelchair. The boys’ father appears to pantomime how to load the gun while his two sons watch in the 10-second clip reviewed by Oxygen.com.
The family said that Fayaadh accidentally pulled the trigger of the loaded gun while testing out the gun’s safety mechanism.
“Nobody meant for this to happen,” Woods said.
Although the charges against Fayaadh were dropped, the boys’ father may face repercussions in connection with the shooting death.
“Upon further and careful investigation, we have concluded while Fayaadh did pull the trigger, he did not do so with criminal intent,” Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said during a press conference yesterday. “This was a horrific accident for which the whole family will suffer, but for which he should not be held criminally liable under these circumstances.”
Krasner said that the father “encouraged” his children to tinker with the pistol and later lied to police so “he could keep himself out of prison.”
“We believe Aleem Gillard is responsible for the death of his child Suhail, and he will be treated accordingly,” Krasner added. “Investigation on that point is ongoing."
Krasner declined to say whether charges would be filed against Aleem Gillard.
The family's lawyer is hopeful, however, that an arrest could soon take place.
“They are probably going to sit the jail on top of him,” the family’s lawyer Shaka Johnson told Oxygen.com.
He described Aleem Gillard as the “catalyst” behind the fatal shooting. Prior to police arriving at the scene of the tragedy, Johnson said that Aleem gave his son a “script” and instructed Fayaadh to mislead investigators to deflect blame from himself.
“There has to be an atonement for the loss of life," Johnson added. "There has to be a reckoning for what was done."
The family’s lawyer insisted the father’s intent was never to provide a firearm safety lesson.
“He was showing off in an effort to capture the affection of his teenage kids,” Johnson said.
But it’s unclear how Aleem Gillard — who has an extensive rap sheet, including several past firearms charges and convictions — procured a pistol given his criminal history. He was convicted for carrying firearms in public in 1998 and pleaded guilty to firearm possession in 2006 and 2015, according to court records. The 42-year-old has also been shot multiple times and was paralyzed during a shootout a few years ago. The family’s lawyer said he uses a wheelchair to get around.
“He was a rough guy in the streets — he was certified,” Johnson said. “I think in his own mind has lost some luster and wanted to overcompensate for the fact that he couldn’t walk.”
Some gun violence prevention advocates are also calling for Aleem Gillard to be charged.
“We’ll be interested to watch if the father’s going to be held responsible,” Shira Goodman, executive director of gun violence prevention nonprofit CeaseFirePA, told Oxygen.com. “He was an illegal possessor, he was irresponsible, and it resulted in tragedy. This is not a unique story but there has to be consequences.”
Goodman noted that more than 100 children had been shot in Philadelphia this year, according to government data.
Prior to Suhail’s death, the twins both attended Mastery Charter School’s Lenfest Campus in downtown Philadelphia.
“Having the charges dropped relieves a tremendous burden for the family,” Rae Oglesby, a spokesperson for the school, told Oxygen.com. “The tragic reality, however, is that regardless of the court decision, Fayaadh is grieving in a way that is beyond comprehension. We will continue to support him and his family through this difficult time.”
Oglesby said the school added support staff, including social workers and grief counselors in the wake of the shooting. Several teachers and students also attended Fayaadh’s court hearing on Wednesday morning, she said.
“Truth prevailed here," Mickey Grace, a math teacher and assistant football coach at the school, told Oxygen.com. "We’ll take the win, no matter how hard it is to swallow. Now we can finally separate the guilt from the grief and learn to find [a] version of peace with the loss of our brother."
Fayaadh and Suhail, who co-captained their high school football team, turned 18 in October. They had both been selected to play in an upcoming city all-star game and were being recruited by a handful of colleges and universities at the time of the shooting.
School officials previously described Suhail, a feisty running back, as a “motor” on the field. But he was also a “self-motivated” student and an aspiring entrepreneur who planned study business following graduation.
The two brothers, who were practically inseparable, had started their own clothing company prior to Suhail’s death. The family said they were the “textbook definition of twins.”
“You can’t take them apart,” Ford, the twins’ uncle said. “They’re not just identical twins, they’re like the same person.”
Fayaadh, who relatives said is traumatized following his brother's death, will likely return to school next week. He had previously been released from police custody after posting a portion of his bond.
The family now hopes to heal — and also adjust to their new reality without Suhail — now that charges against his twin brother have been thrown out.
“I don’t want his name to die,” said Woods, Suhail and Fayaadh’s older brother. “I want him to live on and any way possible I can do that I’ll put all my power into it.”
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