washington - A Philadelphia journalist was shot and killed inside his home early Monday morning. City police say it's too early to tell whether he was targeted over his work.
Police responded to reports of gunshots and screams just before 1:30 a.m. local time in the Point Breeze neighborhood in southern Philadelphia. There, officers found local journalist Josh Kruger shot seven times in the chest and abdomen and collapsed in the street outside his home.
Kruger was transported to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead shortly before 2:15 a.m.
No arrests have been made, and the motive remains unclear, police said. Philadelphia Police Corporal Jasmine Reilly said it's too early to know whether Kruger was killed over his reporting.
"It's really early in the investigation," Reilly told VOA. "We're going to be looking at every different angle in this incident to make sure that we get to the bottom of the motive and get the individual that did this horrible homicide."
There was no sign of forced entry. Police believe someone entered the reporter's home, then shot him at the bottom of his stairs. The shooter ran away, police believe, and Kruger then went outside to get help from his neighbors.
"We hope in this case that the police conduct a thorough and quick investigation so that we can better understand the killer's motives," said Katherine Jacobsen, the United States program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ.
While it's unclear whether Kruger was killed over his work, Jacobsen said, "It's important to use this moment to highlight the dangers that journalists in the United States face."
Those dangers include increased harassment online, according to Jacobsen. But journalist killings are quite rare in the United States.
While CPJ documented at least 67 killings of journalists and media workers around the world in 2022 alone, the press freedom group has documented just 17 cases in the United States since it began tracking killings in 1992.
Of the 17 cases, which do not include Kruger, CPJ confirmed that 15 were over the reporter's work.
Before returning to journalism in 2021, Kruger worked for the city of Philadelphia for about five years, including as a communications director and spokesperson for the city's Office of Homeless Services.
As an award-winning freelance journalist, he reported for outlets including the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Citizen and LGBTQ Nation on topics ranging from the LGBTQ community to city and state politics.
On Kruger's website, he wrote that he is "known for weaving his unique lived experience with homelessness, HIV, Philadelphia's 'street economy,' trauma, and poverty throughout his commentary and writing."
"All these taboos, he felt, are just as much a part of the human condition as are dinnertime, football, and car payments, and he wanted to give voice to the kinds of troubles that people often agonize over in silence," his former editor at the Philadelphia Weekly, Stephen Segal said.
Kruger's death has devastated those who worked with him, like Segal, who met Kruger 10 years ago in 2013 when Segal was the editor in chief of the Philadelphia Weekly.
Kruger was only about one year past being homeless, Segal said, and he was determined to make a career out of writing. Kruger became a regular freelance columnist at the Weekly.
"Josh was already a gifted storyteller when I met him. Helping him develop his journalistic talents and working with him to tell stories that really mattered to people was one of the most meaningful chapters of my life as an editor," Segal said. "I am so, so unspeakably sad at the news of his death. I am so thankful I got to know him as a friend."
Kruger was also an avid bicyclist and an Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian. He lived with his one-toothed senior cat named Mason.
In a statement, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said he was "shocked and saddened" by Kruger's killing.
"Josh cared deeply about our city and its residents, which was evident both in his public service and in his writing," Kenney said. "His intelligence, creativity, passion, and wit shone bright in everything that he did - and his light was dimmed much too soon."
Regardless of whether Kruger was killed over his work, Jacobsen said his slaying could still have serious ramifications for the media community in and beyond Philadelphia.
"Anytime a journalist is harmed, in any way, shape or form, even if it's not in retaliation for their reporting - because they have more public profiles - it creates a sense of fear," Jacobsen said.