Denise Williams Homicide | Press Conference

Geistown Borough police Chief Nick Zakucia answers questions from reporters during a press conference at Cambria County Central Park Complex in downtown Johnstown on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. At left, Cambria County Coroner Jeffrey Lees looks on.

Geistown police Chief Nick Zakucia described Tuesday’s homicide as a tragic reminder that people should use caution before agreeing to meet strangers.

He welcomed the idea of setting up a designated, public location where people can safely complete Facebook Marketplace-style transactions.

According to investigators, Denise Williams, 54, of Hornerstown, was killed by a Geistown man after agreeing through Facebook to meet him about buying a refrigerator.

According to a criminal complaint, Joshua Gorgone, 26, told police he stabbed her after they got into an argument about the price of the item.

“Meeting someone at someone’s house is never a good idea,” Zakucia said. “You never know what you are going to walk into.”

If arranging to meet with someone about a purchase – online or otherwise – meet in a public place, in view of other people, he said.

It’s also wise to take a friend or family member with you to the pick-up location, Zakucia added.

While police continue to investigate, District Attorney Greg Neugebauer said there’s no indication that Williams and her accused assailant, Gorgone, had any type of prior relationship before agreeing to meet about the transaction.

“This was, ‘I’m interested in buying a fridge that’s for sale,’ ” Neugebauer said.

News reports across the country list stories about people being jailed for robberies, attempted robberies and stabbings during purchases arranged through online meet-ups.

Facebook also provides recommendations to the public about in-person meetings through the online marketplace, advising people to share their plans and meet-up address locations with a friend or relative prior to the appointment and to select well-lit, public spaces to exchange goods or money.

‘Safe’ zones

Last month in Flint, Michigan, two men were charged with robbing another at gunpoint over a cellphone, and then stole his vehicle.

After police announced the arrest, they began encouraging people to swap items at their police station as an alternative to homes or unsafe areas.

“If someone is unwilling to meet with you at the police department for this purpose, please be aware that they may have ill intentions,” Flint police wrote in a social media post to the public.

In Louisiana, “safe exchange” zones were set up in the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office parking lot in memory of a young man who was killed while trying to sell his dirt bike.

Zakucia said the Johnstown region, Geistown included, does not yet have designated safe zones – “but I think it’s a great idea.”

“Unfortunately incidents like this have to happen sometimes for us to realize something like this ... is needed,” he said.

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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