When Eric Harrison arrived at work at the Macy’s store in Center City, Philadelphia on a chilly December morning, he had no idea it would be his last. A hard-working young man working two full-time jobs, he had just started his morning shift as a uniformed loss prevention officer.
“He literally got off of work from his other job at 6 o’clock in the morning and went straight to Macy’s to open up the store as a security guard,” says his aunt, Tyree Harrison-Harvey. She described her nephew as fun-loving and funny, a hard-working man that lived an honest and honorable life, supporting himself and his family. “…And then this happened to him.”
Macy’s, like almost every retailer across the country, has been dealing with widespread retail thefts. A popular retail destination in Center City, this particular Macy’s location had already reported more than 250 cases of retail theft so far this year, according to Interim Police Commissioner John Stanford. Unfortunately, they added to that total on the morning of December 4th.
Just before 11 a.m. on that Monday morning, a male suspect was approached by asset protection after allegedly attempting to steal several hats from the store. Following a brief confrontation, the merchandise was recovered and the suspect was released. However, approximately 15 minutes later the suspect returned to the store, yelling threats while seeking out the asset protection team members that thwarted the earlier theft. That’s when the suspect allegedly launched a fatal attack on Harrison, wielding a switchblade and stabbing him in the neck. During the attack, another asset protection team member, 23-year-old Christian Mitchell, valiantly attempted to intervene to save his colleague, suffering severe lacerations to his face and arm in the process before the suspect fled the store.
Harrison died at the scene, and Mitchell was transported to the hospital in critical condition.
Following the unprovoked attack, the suspect, Tyrone Garcell Tunnell, managed to flee the scene but was quickly apprehended by SEPTA Transit Police, who tracked his movements via surveillance video. The knife allegedly used in the assault was also recovered by police, and witnesses positively identified Tunnell as the assailant. According to witness reports, Tunnell “said he didn’t like how the guards handled him” when he was removed from the store during the previous alleged theft incident, which led to his return and the incident that followed.
A habitual offender, Tunnell has an extensive criminal history, with more than a dozen arrests for offenses including retail theft, robbery, and drug-related charges across Philadelphia, Bucks, Delaware, and Montgomery counties. According to authorities, there was also an active arrest warrant for him in Delaware County prior to the stabbing.
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has charged Tunnell with Murder, Attempted Murder, Aggravated Assault, Simple Assault, Recklessly Endangering Another Person, Possession of an Instrument of Crime, Tampering with Evidence, and Retail Theft.
The focus of our attention in this endless string of violent incidents should be that they involve real-life tragedies that impact real people. The ongoing threat of retail crime is genuine. What if one of your loved ones was involved in one of these ongoing incidents? The victim isn’t a faceless entity that pays the price—especially when things turn violent, which is happening today on a regular and consistent basis.
Harrison’s mother, Dawn Harrison-Fobbs, spoke about the memories she’s been deprived of due to her son’s murder.
“Now I’m robbed of grandchildren, seeing my son walk down the aisle—just all the memories I will never get from my 27-year-old son. It’s all gone,” she said. “And for him to be truly, truly a good kid is something I just don’t understand. He’s out there working two 40-hour jobs. Not one part time—two full-time jobs. And this is how he’s taken out. This is not what life is supposed to look like. That’s truly all I have to say. He was my best friend, and now he’s gone.”
Retail is the largest private sector employer in the country. But beyond that, very few of us don’t have a member of our family that hasn’t worked in a retail store, or visited a retail store in the past few weeks. Retailers go above and beyond to try to keep their stores safe and provide a pleasant customer experience. But despite the measures taken and the efforts made, theft-related violence continues to pose a real threat in communities across the country.
What happened to Eric Harrison could happen to any of us. He was simply doing his job, protecting the store and keeping the customers and employees safe. But it reminds us of the unpredictability we face on a daily basis. We can’t foresee what is in the minds of those that visit the store, or what the motivations might be for the things that they do.
Haven’t We Seen Enough?
Here at LP Magazine, we report on all kinds of retail-related incidents on a regular basis. We see the ongoing videos of thieves grabbing what they want and running out of the stores, willing to hurt anyone that might stand in their way. We hear the stories of mothers and grandmothers brutally assaulted by some disturbed individual jumping over a counter to steal the latest video game system. We hear the complaints from shoppers that get upset with retailers that have to lock up their products because it’s the only way they can stop the merchandise from being stolen. Obviously, we’ve all seen much worse—like we did on this day.
The only people that don’t see this as a legitimate problem are those that, for whatever reason, refuse to acknowledge what’s happening right under their nose. Do we really need to bicker over how many TENS OF BILLIONS of dollars are being stolen every year to decide whether or not it’s a real problem? How many people have to get hurt to make it important enough to pay attention? How many stores need to close to make it real? How many multi-million-dollar cases do we need to report? How deep to you have to dig into your pocket, paying higher prices to account for the losses?
Lazy and uninformed reporting simply doesn’t tell the real story. It shouldn’t be about politics, sensationalism, or headline clicks. Thieves don’t leave behind receipts telling us what or how much they’ve stolen. That makes it extremely difficult for retailers to provide numbers in absolutes that identify the root cause of every loss. There’s nothing to hide, and it really shouldn’t be that difficult for anyone with a lick of common sense to figure out. Unfortunately, what has been left behind more often than it should is someone who got hurt in the process.
Solutions might not be something that can be plucked like an apple from a tree, but we’re working on it. This is something that we should all be working on together at the highest levels of the industry, communicating and agreeing on a unified message without finger-pointing, grandstanding, or self-serving interests that draw attention away from the heart of the problem. At the very least, let’s not stand in the way of those trying to make a difference.
That’s not what Eric Harrison would have wanted.
A Message to the Retail Community
To the Harrison family, we would like to share our condolences. We mourn with you in your loss and hope his loving memory eventually brings you peace.
We also extend our thanks to Christian Mitchell for his brave efforts during this tragic event. We send our best wishes for a full and swift recovery.
As a final note, we would also like to share a message from Joe Coll, vice president of asset protection operations and strategy at Macy’s:
“The past couple of days my Macy’s family has been handling unimaginable loss at the hands of senseless violence. Most of you have heard the devastating news about the death of one of our visual security officers from our Macy’s Center City store in Philadelphia … The loss of our colleague and injury of another has been felt throughout our organization. It’s during the most difficult times that the strength of our culture is tested, and I’m so very thankful for the Macy’s support but also from many of you.
I’m immensely grateful to my asset protection community across the retail landscape; so many of you have reached out to offer condolences and inquire how you can support me, my team, the Macy’s family, and Eric’s next of kin.
Eric’s family has passed along this Go Fund Me page where you can make a personal donation in support of the family.
Our teams are just beginning to process the loss and trauma and I’d ask that you continue to hold us in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”