13 shot in park: 'My younger brother was on the floor'
By Peter Nickeas and Jeremy Gorner Tribune reporters 10:31 a.m. CDT, September 20, 2013
Semehca Nunn tried hard to talk about her 3-year-old grandson, one of 13 people shot as neighbors played basketball in Cornell Square Park in the Back of the Yards Thursday night.
"They need to stop, they need to stop," Nunn said, the last word coming out as almost a shriek as she closed her eyes and collapsed crying.
A pick-up game was being played on the park's basketball court in the 1800 block of West 51st Street around 10:15 p.m. when at least one gunman walked up and started firing, apparently with a high-powered gun.
Thirteen people who were on the court or were watching the game were hit, many of them in the arms or legs.
The boy, Deonta Howard, was standing on the court and was shot near the ear, the bullet exiting through his cheek, according to police and relatives. His family said the boy is expected to recover but will need plastic surgery.
Three of those wounded, including Deonta, were in serious to critical condition this morning. The others ranged from serious to good condition, including a 15-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl.
Police believe the shooting stemmed from an ongoing dispute between the Black P. Stones and Gangster Disciples, a law enforcement source said. It was not known if any of the victims were intended targets.
Police said they were questioning several people, but would not say whether any of them were suspects.
"I think it was like an AK," said one neighbor, describing the shooting. "Man, it was a lot of shots. Man, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. A little boy got hit in the face."
Another neighbor said he heard as many as 20 shots. "I was across the park and I heard the shots and I came over and there was a lot of people down. It happened so fast. They were just playing ball, like they do everyday."
The first paramedics found more than a dozen people lying across the rust-colored court. One person lay near a bicycle that was on its side. A pair of white gym shoes were left near an out-of-bounds line.
Ambulances continued to arrive a half hour after the shootings as wounded people were brought out of the park on stretchers. About 60 police officers converged on the park and crime lab investigators combed the scene.
Deonta was taken in critical condition to Mount Sinai Hospital, police said. Nunn said her grandson, nicknamed Tay Man, is heavily sedated and will need plastic surgery.
“He tried to get up and go, he’s not trying to be pinned down by nobody,’’ she said.
“He’s not your average 3-year-old," Nunn said. "He’s very smart, he’s beyond his years. I don’t know if you’ve heard the saying, 'He’s an old soul.' That’s the best words to describe him. He’s an old soul.
“He's friendly for the most part, very outgoing, outspoken,’’ Nunn said. “He likes the limelight, he’ll let you know who he is."
The boy's older brother, Jamarrie Toney, 9, returned to the park with his aunt this morning and said he still hasn’t seen his brother. “I just miss him,’’ he said.
Jamarrie, whose favorite subject at Beethoven Elementary is math, said he was at his aunt’s home across the street when he heard the shots.
”I just got up and ran to this gate,’’ Jamarrie said, pointing to the edge of the park. “My younger brother was on the floor,’’ he said, crying.
One of the other victims, a 37-year-old man shot in the leg, said he hanging out around the basketball court, as he and his friends normally do, when the shooting started.
“I turned around, I heard screaming,’’ he said. “I saw Tay Man." He paused. “I just saw his face.’’ He struggled again for words. "Just tore off. . .They almost shot his whole face off.’’
The man, who asked that his name not be used, smoked a cigarette as he leaned on a cane after being released from the hospital. Medical tape held down a piece of cotton gauze on his left arm, and he was missing the shoe from the leg where he had also been shot.
Asked if he was angry, the man replied, “I’m just grateful, grateful to be alive.’’
Mayra Rodriguez, 23, who lives in the area with her 2-year-old daughter, heard rapid gunfire and then saw people on the ground. “Good thing most of them got hit in the legs,’’ she said.
“That kid was playing, he didn’t even know nothing, it was out of nowhere,’’ she said of the 3-year-old.
Rodriguez said there was a fatal shooting in the park about two years ago, and she tries to avoid it.
Rodriguez and her mother, Elvia Gonzalez, 45, said they had heard gunfire earlier in the evening, around 4:30 p.m. or 5 p.m. Rodriguez said her daughter was playing outside at that time and Gonzalez grabbed the girl and ran inside the house.
As the two talked Thursday night, the 2-year-old girl walked toward the street from the parkway and peered around the corner toward 51st Street to watch the last ambulance leave. She rested one hand on her mother’s leg as she chewed a finger.
Earlier, as her mother spoke, the girl twirled around a light pole. She wore tiny gold hoop earrings, purple pants and a red T-shirt that read, "My heart belongs to Grandpa."
“She don’t even know. . .She’s just pointing at the light,’’ Rodriguez said.
Alejandro Cabada, 20, leaned out of his second-floor window near 50th and Wood streets about an hour after the shooting. He said he’s lived in the area for about seven years.
“Once I opened a beer can, I heard shots,’’ Cabada said. “I opened the fence in the back. They reversed up the alley and then toward Ashland, the car peeled out.’’
“A brown Malibu with tints dipped toward Ashland Avenue. . . A brown Malibu with its lights off was peeling off,’’ Cabada said. “Some young kid said they shot his little brother.
“That was pretty much it, I just seen bodies on the floor, I seen three officers carrying the little boy. I didn’t hear no sounds.’’
Relatives said the boy's uncle, Jerome Wood, was fatally shot in the Woodlawn neighborhood over the Labor Day weekend. The Rev. Corey Brooks, who presided over Wood's funeral, urged the shooter or shooters to surrender or face justice on the streets.
There are people who know exactly who the shooter is," he said, standing next to Nunn. "And I'm sure he will not be safe shooting 13 people."
As dawn broke today, broken glass could be seen strewn across the basketball court, along with discarded medical supplies, syringes without needles, plastic packaging, orange gloves and a bloody T-shirt.
But as of 8:15 a.m., the court had been cleaned up by personnel from Fire Engine 123.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel was headed back to Chicago from Washington, D.C., where he was scheduled to meet today with Obama administration Cabinet secretaries on city issues, mayoral spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said. Emanuel flew to D.C. last night ahead of swing that also was supposed to include a political fundraiser for Democratic New Jersey U.S. Senate candidate Cory Booker.
Emanuel also released a statement this morning about the Back of the Yards shooting. "Senseless and brazen acts of violence have no place in Chicago and betray all that we stand for. The perpetrators of this crime will be brought to justice and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. I encourage everyone in the community to step forward with any information and everyone in Chicago to continue their individual efforts to build stronger communities where violence has no place," the statement reads.
Police listed the victims as: • A 3-year-old boy, shot in the ear, in critical condition at Mount Sinai
• A 17-year-old girl, shot in the foot, condition stabilized at Holy Cross Hospital
• A 15-year-old boy shot in the arm, stabilized at Holy Cross
• A man, 27, shot in the leg and wrist, serious condition at Mount Sinai
• A man, 24, shot twice in the stomach, serious condition at Mount Sinai
• A man, 21, shot in the leg, serious condition at Mount Sinai
• A man, 41, shot in the buttocks, serious condition at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital
• A woman, 33, shot in the shoulder, condition stabilized at Northwestern Memorial Hospital
• A man, 31, shot in the buttocks, condition stabilized at Northwestern
• A woman, 23, shot in the foot, condition stabilized at St. Anthony Hospital
• A man, 37, shot in the leg, in good condition at Stroger
• A man, 25, shot in the knee, in good condition at Northwestern
• And a man, 33, who drove himself to Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park with a gunshot wound to the leg and who was treated and released.