By Rose Quinn
Published in the Delaware County Daily Times
Author’s note: Timothy David Hamler Jr.’s mother provided information and photographs for this story. Her name was withheld from publication at her request.
At 26, Timothy David Hamler Jr. had dreams of making it big as a rapper. When he did, according to friends, he planned to spoil his mother, and try to help his Chester community, especially the children.
In his mother’s eyes, her only child was already a superstar – in life. An attentive son and a person who was kind and cared about others, Timothy brought his mother great joy and made her proud every day.
“He would always give me a hug and say, ‘Mom, are you OK?’” his mother recalled.
Mother and son shared their last hug two days before Timothy was shot multiple times while he was driving on West Ninth Street near Edwards Street in Chester, shortly before 6 p.m. on Sept. 14, 2020.
Paramedics from Crozer-Chester Medical Center treated Timothy at the scene before transporting him to the hospital.
Timothy’s mother was on her cell phone talking to her brother when she received a text alerting her that her son had been shot and to go to Crozer.
“I don’t even know who texted me,” she said of that life-altering moment.
“I wanted to hug him while he was dying but they wouldn’t let me,” Timothy’s mother said.
Timothy Hamler was pronounced deceased by a physician in the emergency department at Crozer at 11:24 p.m. on Sept. 14, 2020, according to information provided by the Delaware County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Authorities believe five males are responsible for the death of Timothy Hamler. All five, who were occupants in a Dodge Durango when the gunshots rang out, allegedly mistook him for another man involved in an ongoing dispute with the group, Detective Vincent Ficchi of the Delaware County Criminal Investigation said.
Hamler died six weeks before his 27th birthday, ending the dreams he had for himself, and the dreams his mother had for him.
“He loved everyone and did not judge anyone,” his mother said. “My son was quiet. He was an observer. But everyone knew him. He was awesome.”
Shortly before he died, Timothy was hired to prep food at Fair Acres.
“He was so excited, but he never got to work there,” his mother said.
Timothy’s murder was not the first tragedy resulting from street violence to impact the Hamler Family. Timothy was a young teen when his cousin, 30-year-old James Hamler, was shot on June 17, 2007, Father’s Day. James Hamler died the following day at Crozer.
Timothy David Hamler Jr. was fatally shot in the early evening of Sept. 14, 2020. He was driving on West Ninth Street near Edwards Street when shots were fired from another vehicle, a Dodge Durango, occupied by five males.
The homicide investigation is ongoing by Detective Vincent Ficchi of the Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division (CID) and detectives from the Chester Police Department
Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective Ficchi at 610-891-4681; Chester authorities at 610-447-8433; or 911.
A joyful child
“Not a guy for the (drama), just truly played the cards he was dealt,” reads Timothy Hamler’s obituary. “Creative, funny, positive, smart and handsome. This is how you should remember him.”
Born Oct. 31, 1993, Timothy was his parents sweetest little Halloween baby. But after being diagnosed with asthma, his first several months of life were admittedly a little scary for his family.
“He had to be taken to the hospital almost every week for seven months,” his mother said. “Then suddenly my son was healed. He was a healthy child who was never sick.”
Shirley Frazier recalled helping her daughter care for her newborn grandson.
“I had him here for a couple weeks after he was born,” said the 79-year-old matriarch, who loves to tell everyone about her “gorgeous” grandchildren.
“He was so cute. I got the most gorgeous grandchildren, and he was one of them,” she said of Timothy. “His smile would just fill you up.”
Timothy always made time for his grandmother.
“He would just stop in and give his mom-mom a hug and a kiss. I never knew when he was coming, and it didn’t matter. Just to see him … just to see that smile he always had was good for me,” she said.
“Timothy grew up a very happy, joyful, loving little boy who had everything,” his mother shared in a detailed note recalling her son. “Every Christmas, he had a lot of gifts. Every Easter, he had a suit on. Every birthday, he had a big party with characters and a parade.
“He was given everything, including a spiritual life.”
Talking about Timothy is extremely hard for his mother as she continues to grieve and deal with a roller coaster of emotions.
In her note, Timothy’s mom recalled how she loved to dress up her son whenever they went out. Sometimes, she would change his outfits three times in a day.
“He was like my baby doll,” she wrote.
Looking back, she described her baby boy as precocious, walking at 9 months of age.
“He loved to eat. I put a plate of food in front of him and he just started walking to it,” Timothy’s mother wrote.
He was singing by the age of 2.
“When he was a toddler, he would speak to everyone that would pass by him, even though he had his own quiet way about him,” she wrote. “He was funny.”
By the age of 3, Timothy was enrolled in pre-school at Bethany Baptist Church, according to his mom.
“He loved that school because they allowed him to ride a bike while everyone else was taking a nap, because Tim would never take a nap,” she wrote.
As a child, Timothy always liked to laugh and have fun, according to his mother.
But her bright son also had a mischievous side.
“When he was in first grade, he was only 5. The teachers would tell me Tim would be finished his work before the rest of the kids. Then he would get bored and start rolling crayons up to the front of the classroom, right in front of the teacher,” his mother wrote.
Once, while they were Christmas shopping at Value City in Delaware, Timothy thought it would be funny to hide from his mother.
“I started crying and panicking,” his mother recalled. “All of a sudden my son jumps down from behind a mannequin and says, ‘Boo’ and starts laughing.”
Recalling another time in their Chester home when she had to go looking for Timothy, his mother wrote, “He came downstairs smiling, with toilet paper stuck to his face with Vaseline. I asked him what he was doing, and he says, ‘Nothing,’ and starts laughing.”
His mother said there was only one time, when Timothy was a teenager, that he seriously tried to challenge her authority, but she quickly showed him who was boss.
“He thought because one of his friends disrespected his parent, he was going to try it on me,” she wrote. “I will tell you what, from that day until the day Tim died, I never had a problem … He was very respectful to me … I never even heard him curse, but I’m sure he cursed with the guys.”
Though Timothy had a talent for cooking, he preferred when his mother took over the kitchen.
“Timothy loved my cooking,” his mother wrote.
Shortly before he died, Timothy was hired to prep food at Fair Acres Geriatric Center in Middletown.
“He was so excited, but he never got to work there,” his mother said. “He was killed two days after he told me the news.”
While Timothy’s mother knew he was enthusiastic about music, she did not know how much he was into rapping until after his death, or that his friends in his rap circle called him Tim Boulderz.
“He never rapped around me,” his mother said.
Sharing a couple details about Timothy that only few people knew, his mother said he spoke Spanish as a child; when he was in his 20s and employed at Fair and Square, he was on the news for being named one of the food store’s best workers; and one of his biggest crushes was on a pastor he befriended while recuperating from a wound he sustained in a previous shooting.
According to Chester police, Timothy Hamler was previously shot on Dec. 17, 2012.
Eight years later, she gave the eulogy at Timothy’s packed funeral, his mother said of the pastor.
“During COVID-19 and it was still crowded. So many people outside couldn’t even get in,” Donte Harris said of his longtime friend’s funeral service. “It was amazing the love that was shown that day.”
Donte Harris met Timothy Hamler in the summer of 2003, or the summer before.
“I was 9 or 10. I lived on 10th Street and Tim lived on Highland Avenue,” he said.
Theirs was a childhood safely spent outdoors in the summer, playing basketball for hours on the hoops behind his house, or swimming.
“My mom bought the pool and my neighbor got us the basketball court,” Donte recalled.
When they were not playing basketball or swimming, they were riding bikes, playing “Release,” or just hanging out.
“There had to be two dozen kids who would meet in the neighborhood. We all have been friends ever since. We call each other brother and sister,” Donte said.
Donte, too, described Timothy as funny and smart. He also added calm and humble to his friend’s list of admirable traits.
“I never heard him raise his voice once, never ever,” he said.
Donte said friends would sometimes sit around for hours and rap.
“Growing up Tim wanted to be a rapper. And he was a rapper. He was doing his thing. He had a promising future,” he said.
“I absolutely miss him. I’m looking at his picture right now,” continued Donte, referring to a photo of Timothy he keeps on the dashboard of his car.
Alluding to the violence in Chester, Donte said, “We had a childhood. We could play. Kids can’t play now.”
While Gina Muscarella of Media is Timothy’s distant cousin, she always considered herself more of an aunt to Timothy.
She remembered him as having a free spirit and being caring and kind. Gina still feels the shock from his murder.
“I had just seen him,” she said, recalling how they ran into each other at a drug store in Chester weeks prior to his death.
“We said we had to get together, and then it didn’t happen,” she recalled. Now, she plans to always make herself available for those important impromptu get-togethers, regardless of how busy life gets.
As a nurse, Gina said she sees a lot, including the domino effect that violence, like that act that claimed Timothy, has on family members, friends, and so many others.
“These young people, I don’t know where their anger comes from,” she said.
Gina believes Timothy is at peace. She also believes that his killers are wrong if they think they have gotten away with his murder.
Quoting a movie line from the “Color Purple,” where Whoopi Goldberg’s character Celie is escaping her abusive husband, she said, “Everything you done to me, you already done to yourself.”
Gina believes the actions of Timothy’s killers – or anyone who has ever acted against another person – now lives inside of them and will haunt them forever.
Generations of loss
Cory Long of Chester and James Hamler shared the same Aug. 14 birthday. The pair were friends since the age of 12 through adulthood.
“James was always the life of the party. He was funny, happy-go-lucky. He was just full of life,” said Long, founder/executive director of Making a Change Group that mentors youth and young adults in Chester.
James Hamler, whose murder also remains unsolved, would have celebrated his 31st birthday Aug. 14, 2007. According to authorities, he was shot in the head as he was standing outside near the American Legion at Seventh and Lloyd streets in Chester, shortly after 2 a.m. on June 17, 2007.
James, like Timothy, was a graduate of Chester High School. James was a member of the Class of 1994, while Timothy was a member of the Class of 2010.
The 6-foot, 7-inch athlete was a second team football All-Delco wide receiver as a high school junior, and a member of the Clippers’ 1993-94 PIAA championship basketball team. He received a degree in business administration from Virginia State University.
As with Timothy’s death, authorities do not believe James was the intended target in the shooting.
“The generational violent crime in Chester, unfortunately, continues,” Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division Chief James E. Nolan IV said.
Nolan was a homicide detective for the Chester Police Department at the time of James Hamler’s death and was a lead investigator in the case.
“Both James and Timothy are the epitome of the phrase, bullets have no names,” Nolan said. “Bullets that were obviously meant for someone else, hit them.”
In James Hamler’s case, Nolan said, “I feel confident that I know what happened. I can’t proceed because of lack of witness involvement.”
Back in July of 2010, James Hamler was named as one of the “Chester 12.” An idea conceived at the time by Women of Strength for Change to bring attention to victims in a dozen unsolved murders between 2003 and 2010, Chester police, government leaders and the Chester Spirit newspaper offered support.
James’ mother, Ernestine “Tina” Hamler, was among victims’ relatives gathered at a public meeting announcing the “Chester 12.”
When Ernestine lost James, she was left with seven other children to love. But at the time of her great loss, she told the group, her other children were lost in her grief. Ernestine said it was the love of family that pulled her through every day.
“James’ death took so much out of her. When he died, it was like she died,” Pat Blain, Ernestine’s aunt, and James’ great-aunt, recalled.
“He was celebrating his first Father’s Day. She just couldn’t understand it,” Pat said of her niece. “It just took her soul.”
James had a daughter, Jade, who lost her father before she celebrated her first birthday.
According to Pat, James was devoted to his whole family, but especially to his mother and his daughter.
“He was excited about being a dad,” Pat said. “That was the greatest accomplishment of his life.”
Recalling James growing up, Pat said, “He was a sweetie pie. He was comical, a jokester. He always had little riddles and liked to outwit you.”
Another thing about James, Pat said, “He loved hoagies.”
Ernestine Hamler, who died in May of 2020, told the Delaware County Daily Times in August of 2007 that her son, whom she called “Toot,” scaled back his job at the county’s Juvenile Detention Center to take over the daycare center she owned and ran after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and suffered a stroke.
“James opened a lot of doors for these children,” Ernestine said at the time. “He would talk to them about everything. I really want them to remember that. I want them to think about him, and about what he would say.”
At the time, Ernestine Hamler gave the investigators overseeing her son’s homicide case all the credit in the world.
As for James’ “so-called friends,” people she believed who could tell police who killed her son, she said she was praying that their conscience would make them come forward.
In words that ring just as true now as 14 years ago, Ernestine Hamler said, “Somebody saw who did this. How can you call yourself a friend and not tell police what you saw?”
Anyone with information in the James Hamler case is asked to contact Chester Police Capt. James Chubb at 610-447-8433, Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division detectives at 610-891-4700, or 911.