A 21-year-old Whitehall man returning home after running an errand for his mother was gunned down Wednesday night less than a block from his apartment complex, authorities said, the first death by foul play in the township in nearly a decade.
Jamar R. McLean told his mother he was on his way home after getting her a phone card just minutes before gunshots erupted on Kay Street, which leads into the Maryland Circle apartments just south of Route 22 and the Lehigh Valley Mall.
Police said McLean was shot several times around 9:25 and was pronounced dead at the scene. No one had been arrested as of Thursday evening.
Several friends gathered with McLean's 20-year-old sister, Shamar Thomas, on Thursday to remember the life of her brother. They cried and consoled her at the crime scene, which became a shrine of religious candles and balloons.
Janelle Johnson, a former classmate, said McLean attended Allen High School, liked sports and often worked out in the gym and on the family's porch, where he kept a weight bench.
"I always remember him walking around with his radio to his ear listening to his Jamaican music," she said. "He made you laugh and smile."
McLean moved to the Lehigh Valley about 10 years ago from Kingston, Jamaica. He had a 3-year-old daughter, Soraya, and his wife, Sherry McLean, is expecting a son in three months.
Sometime after 9 p.m. Wednesday, Icoleen McLean of Whitehall called her son to see if he was on his way home with a phone card, which she needed to call her daughter in Jamaica.
Jamar McLean was walking home from a local convenience store, and told his mother he was nearby.
About five minutes after that phone conversation, Thomas heard what sounded like a barrage of gunfire — five shots, a pause, followed by four more shots, she said.
Thomas didn't immediately look outside, thinking the gunshots were far away. But when she saw crime scene tape, police cruisers and paramedics on Kay Street, she broke down in tears.
"I just knew it was Jamar," she said, knowing he was out and was expected home soon.
Thomas said she didn't know that her brother was having problems with anyone.
Friends said McLean was rarely in trouble but, according to court records, he had at least one run-in with police.
In March 2009, he snatched a cell phone from a man's hand after a pickup basketball game at Jefferson Park in Whitehall. McLean told police he had an ongoing beef with the victim and decided to take the phone after things heated up during the game, according to court records.
Initially charged with robbery, he pleaded guilty to one count of theft and was sentenced to two to 11 months in county prison.
Last year, Whitehall police identified the southern section of the township — from Route 22 to the Allentown city line — as having the most crime and criminals. That area is less than a quarter the size of the township, but is home to dense housing, such as the Maryland Circle apartments.
To reduce crime, uniformed and undercover officers saturated the area in a program dubbed Operation Impact, making dozens of arrests. It continued in 2010, police Chief Ted Kohuth said.
Friends of McLean said a police cruiser is normally at the entrance to Maryland Circle, but none was there Wednesday night, they said. Kohuth would not say how officers are assigned to patrol the area.
Family friend Tanya Hausett said she knows the reputation of the Maryland Circle apartments, but said not everyone who lives there is up to no good.
"It doesn't matter where you live," Hausett said. "[Crime] is everywhere."
Officials ruled McLean's death a homicide, the first other than car-related deaths in Whitehall in nine years.
The last homicide in Whitehall happened in October 2001 at the Lehigh Valley Mall when Carol DiOdoardo, a 38-year-old mother of two daughters, was shot and killed in the parking lot. The shooter and two other men who took part in the botched robbery are serving life sentences for her slaying.
Police released few details on the Maryland Circle investigation Thursday. Kohuth said the Lehigh County Homicide Task Force and the coroner's office are assisting township police.