A Philadelphia Daily News columnist known for his hard-hitting commentaries on urban issues was stabbed to death outside a convenience store by a man demanding money, authorities said today.
W. Russell G. Byers, 59, and his wife, Laurada Beacham, had just bought a pint of ice cream at a market near his home in the city's Chestnut Hill section Saturday night when the suspect yelled, "Give it up," referring to their wallets, police said.
Byers was stabbed once in the chest after he pushed the robber away from his wife, police said.
The suspect fled empty-handed, while Byers managed to stagger inside the store, where he told clerks to call police and then collapsed on the floor, police said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Byers's colleagues said that as a columnist, he hated to give in to urban crime.
"Russell cared more about the future of the city of Philadelphia, and did more to try to influence it in a positive way, than anybody else I know. So this act of violence is also directed at the entire city," said Zack Stalberg, the paper's editor.
"Russell was not a journalist first, he was really a citizen of Philadelphia first. He cared about public life and public policy. He worked harder than anyone here," Stalberg said.
Byers, a Yale graduate, came to journalism late in life. He spent many years in the public sector, working as Philadelphia regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and as an aide to City Councilman Thatcher Longstreth.
Those experiences were brought to bear on the urban issues column he wrote two to four times a week for the last 10 years.
His co-workers said he wrote most passionately about how government spends taxpayer money on schools and housing. In his most recent article last Tuesday, he wrote that Philadelphia should hire a citywide housing czar to "ruthlessly eliminate the bureaucratic boondoggles."