Neighbors outraged as toddler, 3 teens killed in weekend violence: ‘This is a horrific Father’s Day. This 3-year-old baby lost his life’

Tribune Content Agency

CHICAGO — Neighbors congregated on a corner in the 600 block of North Central Avenue on Sunday afternoon to denounce the weekend’s overnight violence, including the shooting death of 3-year-old Mekhi James.

“A line was crossed,” said the Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Bible Church. “This is a horrific Father’s Day. This 3-year-old baby lost his life. … I could not pastor this community and not say something.”

Joined by other faith and community leaders, neighbors filled the sidewalk to remember and mourn the children killed. A driver passed by the corner of the street and yelled in support of the city to “put the guns down!”

Acree referenced recent George Floyd protests against police brutality and voiced concerns about the safety of black youth in Chicago.

“We say black lives matter, but we’re here to say black baby lives matter more,” he said.

At a Sunday news conference on the weekend violence, Chicago police Superintendent David Brown said at least 61 people had been shot in the city through Sunday, and as of Sunday morning, eight young people had been shot, four fatally. Brown, along with Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan, urged anyone with information on any of the cases to come forward.

“Good men throughout this city should be celebrating with their families on a beautiful day, but instead, a number of Chicagoans will be spending Father’s Day grieving the loss of their children,” Brown said.

Brown repeatedly called for keeping violent offenders in jail longer and revamping the home monitoring program.

“I put myself in that house, holding that little girl as she struggles to breathe,” Brown said. “I put myself in that hospital, clutching a baby with a bullet hole. Tears are a natural reaction to these tragic stories of violence. But we need to do more than just cry. Let’s keep violent offenders in jail longer. And let’s revamp the home monitoring program. It’s not working.”

Brown said he was thinking of residents in the affected communities.

“Bullets don’t just tear apart the things they strike,” Brown said. “Bullets also tear apart families. Bullets destroy neighborhoods, and they ruin any sense of safety in a community.”

Mekhi was riding in the back seat of a vehicle with his father, 27, who police say was the intended target, when they were shot about 6:30 p.m. in the 600 block of North Central Avenue in the South Austin neighborhood.

Two hours later, three teens were shot, including a 13-year-old girl who died, about five blocks from where Mekhi’s shooting happened. Two teenage boys were also killed Saturday in the South Chicago neighborhood.

Acree said his church will set a $2,500 reward for any information that could lead to the arrest of the person who shot Mekhi. Additional rewards are being established, according to community organizers.

Nicole Weekly, of Austin, stood on a patch of grass near the crowded sidewalk and listened as community leaders spoke. Weekly, who said she lives on the same block where the shooting occurred, said she heard gunshots about 6 p.m. Saturday and rushed to her window. She saw a blue vehicle zoom by.

“What is happening with our kids?” she said, holding her palms together. “Our babies can’t be getting killed. What kind of future do we have if our babies are getting killed?”

The father suffered a graze wound to his abdomen and refused medical treatment, while Mekhi suffered a gunshot wound to the back and was pronounced dead at West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park, police said.

The child’s father is “known to police” and “appears to be the intended target of the shooting,” police said.

Longtime community activist Andrew Holmes also held a media briefing following the toddler’s death Saturday.

The community needs to “take care of home base” because multiple children have been shot recently in Chicago, including a 5-year-old boy on Thursday and a 9-year-old girl on Wednesday.

“This baby had a family,” Holmes said of Mekhi. “What I’m asking, come on out here and protest on this West Side. Shut this West Side down until we find out who discharged that weapon and took the life of this baby.”

Holmes said he spoke to one of Mekhi’s family members, who said the child’s mother is “totally upset.”

“She loved her baby,” Holmes said.

John Anderson, who lives near the site of Mekhi’s shooting, heard six or seven gunshots while inside his home, he said. When he went outside, he didn’t see anyone or anything.

Police arrived and walked around looking for something, Anderson said. They didn’t seem to know where to look first.

Then, more police came to the area and told him that a 3-year-old had been shot, he said. Shell casings were found on Huron east of Central.

The violence in the area typically stays several blocks north and south of where the shooting took place, said Anderson, 57.

“It’s a real quiet neighborhood,” he said. “It’s a mixed community.”

Also Sunday, Deenihan said police planned to release a video of the suspect in Saturday’s fatal shooting of two teens in the 7900 block of South Luella Avenue.

Shortly after 5 p.m., two teenagers, identified as Charles Riley, 16, and Jasean Francis, 17, by the medical examiners office, were shot in an alley, police said. The 17-year-old was shot in the back, chest and left hand, and was taken to the University of Chicago Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. The 16-year-old was shot in the back and left flank, and was also taken to U. of C. Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

The boys were with their friend and had just gone to the mall, Deenihan said Sunday.

“They don’t ever go out into the neighborhood because it’s so dangerous,” he said. “They asked their mom, can we just go down to the store — it couldn’t have been more than a half a block away — can we just go down to the store to buy some candy? And that’s what they did.”

The boys had almost reached their gangway to return home when someone ran up and shot them “for no reason at all,” Deenihan said.

“These kids are not criminals, they’re not gang members, they have nothing to do with the ongoing disputes out there and they just get gunned down for no reason at all,” he said.

Shortly after Mekhi’s killing, there were at least two separate multiple-victim shootings just blocks away.

About 8:35 p.m., three teens were shot in the 1000 block of North Leclaire Avenue, not far from where Mekhi was shot. One of the victims was sitting on a porch when he saw a red laser pointed at him before multiple gunshots sounded, police said.

A 13-year-old girl, identified as Amaria J. Jones by the medical examiner’s office, was inside the residence when she suffered a gunshot wound to the neck. She was taken to Stroger Hospital in critical condition and later pronounced dead, police said.

“This individual was inside the residence, and once again you had a coward basically come through the gangway and shoot at a bunch of people on the porch,” Deenihan said. “There’s an ongoing, once again an ongoing gang dispute in the neighborhood, shooting at a large group on the porch, the bullet goes through the window, striking her in the neck and causing her death.”

A 15-year-old boy was shot in the lower back and a 16-year-old boy was shot in the left leg, police said. They were taken in good condition to Mount Sinai Hospital.


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