It was an otherwise ordinary January evening nearly 17 months ago when her 19-year-old son Daniel “Danny” Puskas had made plans to meet his girlfriend Elizabeth Turner at a Philadelphia Eagles tailgate. It was a big one. A night game. And the Dallas Cowboys were in town.
So Puskas decided to grab a pregame meal at one of his favorite food shops on the corner of 19th and McClellan streets in Point Breeze shortly after 5 p.m. Puskas knew the Kim Woo Store well while living on McClellan Street after moving up from Delaware County with his mother and two siblings. They served breakfast there at all hours. Puskas had just visited his mom’s new apartment in Queen Village to do a load of laundry and dinner was the next stop before meeting Elizabeth. Then the phone rang.
“A half-hour later, I got a call from Elizabeth asking where he was,” LoBaito-Puskas recalled. “I told her he went to pick her up.”
Turner was able to check the GPS on Puskas’ phone and it registered that he was at the hospital.
“When I got there, they wouldn’t let me in,” the frantic mother said. “I didn’t know what was going on but I got that feeling that I knew it was bad.”
At 7:03 p.m., Puskas was pronounced dead after suffering multiple gunshot wounds. Police said Puskas and another victim, who was 16 at the time, were shot shortly after leaving the food store. The other victim survived after he was shot in his arm, his shoulder and his leg. Puskas wasn’t so lucky.
“The cops told me someone was circling around the block for about a half-hour,” LoBaito-Puskas said. “My son came out of the store with a sandwich and went to get in his car. They waited till he got halfway down the street and they just started shooting.”
“He was a good kid,” LoBaito-Puskas said. “Sure, he smoked pot, but that’s like the worst thing he did. And he worked a lot. He never called out of work. Sometimes it’s not you, it’s who you are around. It breaks my heart. These kids don’t think they are going to live past 20.”
LoBaito-Puskas lived in South Philly for 27 years but her kids grew up in Springfield, Delaware County. They had only recently moved back to the city when the murder occurred. Puskas was living mostly with his girlfriend in Delaware County but worked at the Home Depot at 20th and Oregon. He did make friends in Point Breeze but his mother said he didn’t hang out there very often
“I think my son was too trusting,” she said. “He was always giving rides to people. I think maybe he thought he was going to be part of the crowd but he wasn’t. He didn’t hang out there often.”
She still has sleepless nights cooking up theories of why her son was killed.
“I lie awake at night and my mind doesn’t stop.” she said. “I put together all these cockamamie stories. Some nights I even think he’s still alive. It’s really hard because you can’t enjoy anything. And if you do, you feel guilty. I’m not the same person I was with my son.”
She calls the police frequently but she’s told detectives are overwhelmed with other cases. It doesn’t stop her from calling.
“I’m trying to get them to answer me,” LoBaito-Puskas said as she scrolled down a long list of sent text messages. “You see all these green lines. It’s all me. Nobody is answering me. I’ve emailed and tried phone calls and left messages. No response. The grief group I belong to filed a complaint. I thought it was just me, but I know it’s not.”
In 2022, the year of Puskas murder, there were 504 homicides in Philadelphia, and there have been more than 160 already in 2023. She knows as time continues and the numbers increase, there’s less likelihood that her son’s murder will be solved.
“At first I was calling like every five minutes,” she said. “Then mostly, I call once a week, but now sometimes every other week as it gets further and further out. It’s not that I’m giving up, it’s just that I feel like if they had something new, they would call me.”
“No one wants to say anything,” LoBaito-Puskas said. “I thought the money would be an incentive. But apparently that’s not enough.”
A reward of up to $20,000 is available to anyone who comes forward with information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for Puskas’ murder. Anonymous calls can be submitted by calling the Citizens Crime Commission at 215-546-TIPS. Information can also be submitted to the Philadelphia Police Department online or by calling 215-686-TIPS.
LoBaito-Puskas would just like the closure.
“If I found the person, I don’t know what I would do,” she said. “I’d probably freak out on them first and I’d cry and I’d ask them why they did it. And I’d tell them to get their life in order. People seem to go back and forth killing each other. For what? So other parents can have grief? It doesn’t solve the problem.”