The alleged leader of a carjacking ring tied to two murders, multiple shootings and several robberies has been apprehended, Philadelphia’s top law enforcement leaders said Tuesday.
Jonathan Akubu, 28, of Drexel Hill, led a loosely-knit group that mainly targeted newer-model Toyotas and was responsible for the fatal shootings of 29-year-old Aiah Gbessay on Feb. 12 in Eastwick and 60-year-old George Briscella on Feb. 6 in Rhawnhurst.
He was apprehended late last week, and Philadelphia Police Homicide Capt. Jason Smith told reporters investigators are working to identify three to six other people involved in the carjacking ring.
Detectives are also looking into Akubu and his group for their possible role in other carjackings, including some that occurred in Delaware and Montgomery counties.
Akubu’s arrest comes as the city has experienced a skyrocketing number of vehicle-related robberies and shootings.
“To all those who seek to sow chaos in our city, let today send a message that we simply cannot and will not tolerate these acts of violence,” Mayor Jim Kenney said Tuesday during a news conference at police headquarters.
Briscella was gunned down for his RAV4 while visiting his elderly mother on the 2100 block of Afton Street on a Sunday night.
Before his death, on Feb. 4, a 58-year-old woman was shot at, but not hit, when a group of men took her RAV4 on the 7600 block of Elmwood Avenue in Eastwick. Two days earlier, a different Toyota SUV, a Highlander, was carjacked just blocks away.
Surveillance video from all three scenes captured a silver Toyota Camry believed to belong to the suspects, Smith said.
Through ballistics evidence from spent shell casings, detectives linked Briscella’s murder to the shooting of a 42-year-old man during an Jan. 27 carjacking on the 8400 block of Lyons Avenue in Eastwick, according to authorities.
Police found Briscella’s RAV4 on Feb. 12 on the 6300 block of Glenmore Avenue in the Elmwood section of Southwest Philadelphia. Later that day, Gbsessay died after being shot several times on the 8100 block of Grovers Avenue.
Near the scene of the shooting, officers discovered a 2008 Ford Escape with the engine still running and windshield wipers on, Smith said. The vehicle had been reported stolen in Norristown.
A few blocks away, a white van owned by Gbsessay was found fully engulfed in flames. Smith said investigators believe the fire was intentionally set using an accelerant.
Last Thursday, a University of Pennsylvania campus officer stopped the Toyota Camry and spoke with Akubu after recognizing the vehicle from a PPD alert, authorities said. He was later apprehended at a Delaware County apartment complex.
Inside the apartment, police found an AK47-style rifle with a destroyed serial number and a 5.7 caliber handgun, which matched the firearm used in both homicides, Smith said.
The handgun had been taken during a Dec. 27 carjacking in which a 25-year-old man was shot in the shoulder on the 7000 block of Greenway Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia, according to authorities.
Akubu has been charged with two counts of murder and aggravated assault, and he faces a litany of other charges including robbery, conspiracy and weapons violations.
No defense attorney was listed in court documents Tuesday. He is being held without bail at the city’s State Road jail complex.
Akubu previously pleaded guilty to sexual assault in 2012, and he served prison time following a 2013 aggravated assault case.
‘People should be concerned’
There have been 203 carjackings reported so far this year, up from 78 at this point in February 2021 and 34 in 2020, according to police data.
“I would say there are several carjacking rings operating in the city at the present time,” Smith said. “That’s why we’re taking this situation so seriously.”
At Tuesday’s news conference, police leaders declined to discuss why the groups are stealing certain cars or where they are ending up, citing active probes. Not all the vehicles taken in carjackings have been recovered.
“I think people should be concerned about their safety, I do,” Kenney said. “I think that there’s too many guns on the street. I wouldn’t hide in the basement, but I would be concerned about my surroundings.”
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said her department has seen an improvement in arresting suspects since establishing a carjacking task force.
Last week, officers arrested three teenagers in East Germantown who investigators believe are connected to at least two carjackings, and, on Feb. 10, police apprehended two men allegedly connected to three robberies in Northeast Philadelphia.