CHICAGO — Two men in their 20s opened fire last week into a park on Chicago’s South Side — wounding a 3-year-old boy and 12 other people — after one of the men had been grazed by a bullet hours earlier, police said today.
They did not aim at anyone in particular but “just shot into the park” because they believed it was controlled by a rival gang, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy told reporters.
Police identified the gang member out for vengeance as Bryon Champ, 21. Armed with an assault-style rifle, he fired more than a dozen rounds into the crowd of people at a basketball court at Cornell Square Park in the Back of the Yards neighborhood Thursday night, police said. Police said it was a miracle no one died.
Champ was accompanied by Tabari Young, 22, who also fired into the park, police said. Kewane Gatewood, 20, supplied the high-powered gun Champ used, while Brad Jett, 22, acted as a lookout, police said.
Prosecutors said all four suspects have admitted to participating in the shooting. They are being held without bail.
The mass shooting had its beginnings earlier in the day when Champ suffered a graze wound to his leg, McCarthy said. “When Mr. Champ was shot, he believed a rival gang controlled the park and that’s where they went.” Champ and Young did not target anyone in particular but “just shot into the park,” McCarthy said.
Champ is a Black P Stone gang member and was wounded in a shooting involving rival Gangster Disciples, according to Assistant State’s Attorney John Dillon.
Gatewood, 20, had been keeping an AK-47-style rifle for Champ under his bed at home for a few months, according to Dillon. After he was grazed by the bullet, Champ asked Gatewood to bring the weapon to a house where Champ hung out, the prosecutor said.
Champ and another person went looking for rival gang members and spotted them at Cornell Square Park, Dillon said. A second car went to the park as well to provide cover from police and rival gang members, Dillon said. Champ and Young both opened fire at the park, the prosecutor said.
According to Dillon, Jett acted as a lookout by a gangway by the park.
Champ had been convicted of unlawful use of a weapon by a felon in July 2012 and was sentenced to boot camp at the Cook County Department of Corrections. McCarthy said the mass shooting likely would not have occurred had he gotten jail time instead.
“He received boot camp for that gun crime and was back out on the streets to be a part of this senseless shooting,” McCarthy said. “That is unacceptable. To truly address violence for the long term, we need state and federal laws that keep illegal guns out of our communities and provide real punishment for the criminals who use them.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel released a statement calling for a three-year minimum sentence for illegally carrying a gun.
“One of the shooters should have been behind bars rather than in Cornell Park on Thursday night. As we invest heavily in programs for youth, in new policing strategies, and in building supports for those most likely to fall into gangs, we also need a three-year mandatory minimum bill for gun crimes,” he said.
The shooting erupted on a warm night when neighbors had gathered at the park and several of them were playing on the basketball court, including the youngest victim, 3-year-old Deonta Howard. A bullet hit the boy in the ear and exited his cheek.
His mother, Shamarah Leggett, 24, told the Chicago Tribune that her son is making a quick recovery, walking around his hospital room and refusing to take off his brand new Nikes when he sleeps. She said Deonta was expected to go home in a few days, but he will require plastic surgery when the swelling goes down.
Leggett was at her son’s bedside when police announced the charges this morning. Deonta was watching cartoons.
“I’m really happy, I’ve been praying for this. I want to go see them face to face and talk to these people,” she said. “They shouldn’t even be able to get a bond. I think it’s crazy. Man, they just need to stop the violence. It’s beyond out of control.”
Leggett had earlier said her son had taken a late nap and she had taken him out with her to the park so he could get some exercise so he would go to sleep.
While she expects to tell her son that the men who shot him were caught, she says she can’t tell him not to be afraid.
“The shootings are still going to go on, so I can’t tell him he shouldn’t be afraid because he’s still in the world,” Leggett said. “But I can tell him that the people who did this to him, God took care of them, it’s OK. God took care of him too.”
Family and friends of some of the suspects said they did not believe the allegations against them.
Young had a brother who was shot and killed by Chicago police in June 2008 in the Washington Park neighborhood on the South Side. Young’s father died last year after an illness, she said.
“He’s a good boy. It’s just that he gets caught up … because there’s no work,” the mother said from the front door of her Back of the Yards home.
She declined further comment.
Donell Jackson said Young is his best friend and always helped him take care of his six children, the oldest of them 7. Jackson said Young would baby sit for the kids and the two men would take the kids on outings, like to Chuck E. Cheese.
Young likes to draw and sketched designs that he later used as models for tattoos for himself, Jackson said. He doesn’t believe his friend is in a gang, and he’s confident he had nothing to do with the shooting.
“That don’t fit him. That’s not even him at all,” Jackson said outside his two-flat in Back of the Yards. “He’s got a good background … and stuff like that.”
Jackson said Young got very depressed about his brother’s death. Jackson said the two became close after that. “He was getting over it. But he was really close to him. too,” Jackson said.
Jett used to live in a house two years ago on the same block where he and Young were arrested Sunday night.
Hector Rios, 47, said Jett would still come to the house from time to time to pick up mail. Rios said Jett and a few of his family members moved into a house across the street a few years back, but it has since been boarded up and the family moved out of the neighborhood.
Rios said he would give Jett and his mother and sister rides on errands. “He always was a nice guy to me,” said Rios.