Relatives of a Black man who was fatally shot on a camping trip last month in rural Pennsylvania called his death a “lynching” and have expressed frustration that several people were detained but not arrested or charged.
The man, Peter Bernardo Spencer, 29, of Pittsburgh, was shot multiple times at a Rockland Township residence Dec. 12, Pennsylvania State Police said this month. “The four individuals who were present at the time of the shooting were questioned and released after consultation with the Venango County district attorney,” police said in a statement.
Officials also urged patience as investigators await ballistics data and toxicology and laboratory test results.
Venango County District Attorney Shawn White said Tuesday that while he recognized the family’s push for information, his office must conduct a thorough investigation.
The reports are expected to be completed and submitted within four to six weeks, he said. “Upon receipts of these reports, the district attorney will review all available information prior to making a charging decision,” the DA’s office said in a statement.
Spencer’s loved ones, including his brother, Tehilah, and his fiancée, Carmela King, have expressed frustration.
“He was the only black individual at the camp site and is being portrayed as the aggressor,” King wrote on a GoFundMe account. Tehilah Spencer said his brother was “MURDERED IN COLD BLOOD!” during a hate crime in a “MODERN DAY LYNCHING” on another GoFundMe account.
State Police declined to provide additional information Tuesday.
The deadly shooting happened about 2:30 a.m., and “multiple firearms, ballistic evidence, controlled substances, were seized from the scene,” police said in a statement on Dec. 29. The department’s Heritage Affairs Section, which responds to hate and bias crimes, was notified, police said.
Spencer, an immigrant from Jamaica, worked in construction and contracting, said Paul Jubas, the family’s attorney.
Spencer was invited by a former colleague and was the only Black man on the camping trip, Jubas said.
“This was something they would do from time to time. They would go out to the woods together and shoot guns … drink beer, have a good time,” he said.
The county coroner has not released evidence to a private medical examiner for Spencer’s family, Jubas said.
The family wants the information released to Dr. Cyril Wecht, who has investigated high-profile cases involving President John F. Kennedy, Elvis Presley and JonBenét Ramsey.
“We’ve only received unacceptable answers that don’t make any sense,” Jubas said. “And they’re now stonewalling us. They are preventing us from having our medical examiner, the best medical examiner in the country, do his work. There is no reason for that.”
Although Wecht has seen Spencer’s body and examined it, he has studied only a few photos from the embalmer and none from the coroner, Jubas said. He needs autopsy photos before he can reach a conclusion, Jubas said.
Most of the wounds appeared to be in Spencer’s back, Jubas said.
“He was shot nine times. We have received that word from both law enforcement and the Venango County coroner,” Jubas said.
Venango County Coroner Christina Rugh did not respond to multiple requests for comment Tuesday.
Spencer’s mother, Icilda Spencer-Hunter, said she is trying not to allow a methodical investigation to frustrate her.
“I’m just trying to walk the walk and go through how the system works,” she said. “He has to get justice. He has to get justice.”
Spencer’s family told NBC affiliate WPXI of Pittsburgh that he often fed the homeless and played basketball with neighborhood kids. His mother said he would never hang up the phone “without saying, ‘I love you.’”
Tehilah Spencer wants answers in his brother’s death.
“I just want to know why. That’s really all I want to find out at this point,” he told WPXI.