PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A close-knit Germantown neighborhood is reeling from a violent attack on their block captain. Police say the 52-year-old victim was shot while trying to stop a trio of catalytic converter thieves.
The gunfire broke out on Germantown Avenue and Pomona Street, around 5 a.m. Wednesday.
Police say the block captain and the owner of a white van both confronted the thieves as they were cutting a catalytic converter from the van. The block captain then chased the thieves when they ran away.
"One of the thieves, who was under the van, fired at least one shot, striking the block captain one time in the left side of his chest, and that's when he collapsed," Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Scott Small said.
The block captain was taken to Einstein Medical Center in critical condition. He's now in stable condition and is expected to survive.
Police haven't identified him, but neighbors describe him as a hero for keeping the community safe.
"It breaks my heart he was doing something so selfless and really wanting, like, to put a neighbor's need, like protecting their property," resident Patti Dunne said.
Catalytic converter thefts are up citywide. Thieves can roll under a vehicle and can cut the car part out in just one minute, then sell the metal for scrap.
Police say the block captain was on alert because another neighbor reported having her catalytic converter stolen this past weekend.
"He's a really, really nice guy. I'm like, shocked that this happened on this block," homeowner Natalie Harris said.
Philadelphia police say there were 520 catalytic converter thefts in 2019, 938 in 2020, 3,418 in 2021 and 3,505 so far this year.
"It seems to be the number one crime in Germantown, Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill," resident Jan Wright said.
Police tell Eyewitness News three men were seen leaving the scene in a gray or silver four-door car. Meanwhile, a key piece of evidence was recovered.
"We found some tools and one of those tools appears to be a small saw, so that's a good thing because we hopefully can get some fingerprints or DNA evidence from those tools," Small said.
But for Wright, she just wants to feel safe.
"We've done everything to make sure we have a good neighborhood," Wright said.
Police are investigating whether the thieves are part of a catalytic converter theft ring. If you know who or where they are, you're urged to call police.
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