28 Nov

At Age 92, a Charitable Life Ends in a Senseless Death

“Mrs. Fields,” she said, “I’ve been shot.”


Sadie Mitchell lived more than half of her 92 years at the same house on East 224th Street in the Bronx. She walked to church every Sunday, organized trips to Broadway shows and held Bingo parties in her dining room. On Tuesday evening, she came home from her newest activity, exercise class.

Sadie Mitchell in an undated family photo.

“When someone is in their 90s, it’s inevitable, you expect it — but not like this,” said Mrs. Mitchell’s daughter, Shahron Williams Van Rooij.

Shahron Williams Van Rooij

When her neighbor Mary Fields called to make sure she had made it back safely, Mrs. Mitchell told her she was going to settle in and watch her shows — probably her favorites, “Wheel of Fortune” or “Jeopardy,” if she could find them.

But a few hours later, Mrs. Fields’s phone was ringing. It was Mrs. Mitchell.

“Mrs. Fields,” she said, “I’ve been shot.”

Mrs. Fields and her husband, John, rushed across the street in the Williamsbridge section of the Bronx to find the television still on and Mrs. Mitchell sprawled on her living room floor, bleeding from a gunshot wound. She was dead on arrival at Jacobi Medical Center.

The police have made no arrests, but Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said they had found witnesses. He said the shooting occurred after a fight between a group of young men from White Plains Road, near Mrs. Mitchell’s block, and a group from the nearby Edenwald Houses. Someone fired a 9-millimeter round, he said, that went through Mrs. Mitchell’s apartment and struck her in the hip before puncturing her lungs.

“When someone is in their 90s, it’s inevitable, you expect it — but not like this,” said Mrs. Mitchell’s daughter, Shahron Williams Van Rooij.

Mrs. Mitchell, who grew up in Detroit, moved to the East 224th Street house in 1955 with her husband, St. Julian Mitchell. Williamsbridge was a quiet neighborhood in the northeast Bronx where working-class families walked to church. Mr. Mitchell, a World War II veteran, worked in The New York Times’s printing department until he died in 1983.

She taught religious classes at Our Lady of Grace Roman Catholic Church, just a few blocks from her home, and volunteered in needy communities across the borough. And the need was great: Mrs. Mitchell stayed through the dangerous 1960s and ’70s, when many families fled.

Neighbors said that throughout the turmoil, their low-rise block, steps from the elevated tracks of the No. 2 train, was a safe haven. Until recently.

Many of the longtime residents have left, while gangs, drugs and crime have invaded the area, neighbors say. Loud fights break out at all hours. On Tuesday, the shouting between the two groups of young men was even louder than usual, said Mr. Fields, who has lived on the block for 26 years.

“These kids don’t seem like they have any respect for anybody,” he said. “They don’t seem like they care about life.”

Police statistics show that crime has dropped in the 47th Precinct, which includes Williamsbridge, in the last 15 years or so. But residents say it does not feel that way, and they complain of violence and crime that have become distressingly common. “All the time, all the time, all the time,” said a neighbor named Harry, who has lived on the block for 22 years. He said he feared giving his last name.

“When we moved to this place, it was like winning the lottery,” Harry said. He would leave his door unlocked when he shopped, he said, recalling Mrs. Mitchell as “the grandmother of the block.”

Ms. Van Rooij said that she had tried to persuade her mother to join her in Virginia, or move to Florida, but she would not leave. “This was her home,” Ms. Van Rooij said. “This is where she lived with her husband for so many years.”

Until her death Tuesday, Mrs. Mitchell attended police precinct meetings and community board hearings. Over the years, neighbors said, she had belonged to just about every neighborhood association.

She followed the news, and, as a black woman who had lived through segregation, was thrilled with Barack Obama’s election victory last year.

Mr. Fields would drive her to the doctor, and to donate food at a nearby convent. He drove her when she had to have her beloved German shepherd, Mikey, euthanized a few years ago. Just Monday, he said, he took her to Applebee’s with his wife. Mrs. Mitchell paid.

On Wednesday afternoon, reporters and television crews idled outside Mrs. Mitchell’s home, light green with dark green awnings.

Ms. Van Rooij, who had driven up from Virginia, brought out a photograph of her mother. With a stylish black hat perched atop her silver hair, Mrs. Mitchell smiled wryly from behind her glasses, her finger pointing at the camera.

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