By Sue Botos
Although gun violence has become almost daily news, Rocky River has managed to stay out of the line of fire for a decade, until two men were shot, one fatally, last week on Westway Drive.
Michael MacGillis, 39, was killed and his friend Andrew Geraci,43, was seriously wounded after exchanging words with Donovan Owens, 21, who, according to Geraci, drove past the two men as they were walking down Westway and exchanged words with them. When interviewed in the hospital after the shooting, Geraci told police that Owens drove away, then returned and shot the men, killing MacGillis and seriously wounding Geraci.
It remains unclear why the two men were walking down the street at 10 p.m. in freezing weather, or why they were not close to their South Bend Circle residence.
Owens turned himself in to Rocky River police on Jan. 24, accompanied by his lawyers. He has been arraigned and is awaiting trial in Cuyahoga County jail. Bond has been set at $1 million.
According to police Chief Kelly Stillman, the last fatal shooting in the city occurred in 2003, when two police officers shot and killed an armed man in self-defense when the man refused to drop his gun.
Records reflect that Rafat Elghaffar got into a fight with family friend Peter Zaky on Oct. 25, 2003, at Zaky’s store, Nu Look tailoring and dry cleaning, on Center Ridge Road. The men started to throw punches after Elghaffar found his wife Doha and Zaky together in the store. According to police, Zaky had been trying to help the couple with their marital problems.
During the scuffle, Elghaffar struck Zaky in the forehead with his gun and fired a shot at him. Zaky, pursued by Elghaffar, ran across a parking lot to the GPS Gift Gallery, where Elghaffar ordered the owner to leave. The two men continued to fight in a back room and another shot was fired.
Elghaffar was confronted by the officers, who responded to 911 calls from Elghaffar’s wife and passing motorists, who saw him running across the parking lot with the gun. The native of Egypt was shot three times in the chest after he raised his gun to the officers and refused to drop the weapon.
Stillman said that the last homicide in the city was a triple killing on River Oaks Drive in the early 1990s.
Although Stillman stressed that Rocky River is a safe community, he said there has been in uptick in violent acts. “It’s just that we’ve become a more violent society,” he stated.
Memories of the 2003 shooting have faded, but for the neighbors of 20879 Westway, where MacGillis and Geraci were found lying on the sidewalk, the recollection is fresh.
Neighbors cast a wary eye as the media descended on the usually quiet neighborhood recently. “I work in the heart of Cleveland, and I came here to be safe. Nothing like this has ever happened before,” said a resident who did not want to be identified.
Tom Hoffman, another neighbor who said he didn’t hear anything until his “front yard was full of people,” said he still feels Rocky River is a safe place to live.
Mayor Pam Bobst agreed, stating, “This was an unsettling event, it’s not something we deal with every day.” She praised city police and local law enforcement for their quick action and for reassuring residents that this was an isolated incident, and that an active shooter was not at large.
“They did tremendous work. This is when all of the partnerships we have reinforced through the years really make a difference,” she said. “Our number one priority is a safe secure and prepared community. We never want events like this to cause (residents) feel unsafe.”