A teen wrestling champion was video-chatting with her sister about Halloween costumes minutes before she was shot and killed while parked in her car outside her Chicago home on Saturday night.
Hours later, her family called for justice as gun violence continues to take a devastating toll on the city.
Chicago police said that 18-year-old Melissa de la Garza, who had recently graduated high school and was headed to college at the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago, was sitting in her car at around 8:30 p.m. when she was shot multiple times in the torso.
Relatives told WLS that Melissa’s father jetted outside of the house after hearing the deafening gunshots. Local police showed up at the scene minutes later.
“He saw my sister sitting in the car. He was screaming her name, and she wasn’t responding,” Isabel de la Garza said of her father’s final encounter with her older sister, according to a video interview shared by the outlet. “My dad opened the door and just held her.”
Isabel de la Garza was the last person to speak to Melissa before she was shot and rushed to a local hospital, where she ultimately died from her injuries.
“She just seemed so happy in that FaceTime call,” the sister said at a press conference on Sunday.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, at least three people were killed due to gun violence on Friday alone, just a day before Melissa de la Garza was killed. Among 10 others who were wounded in the city that day were a Chicago police officer and a 15-year-old boy.
Jose de la Garza, Melissa’s heartbroken dad, described the teen as a “warrior princess,” during the emotional press conference. She had once been the only female wrestler at Solorio Academy High School and was headed to the School of the Art Institute in Chicago on a scholarship, he said.
“It’s hard to put in words the loss we are feeling, for someone to take away my 18-year-old warrior princess,” he said. “She was a wrestler at Solorio— took second place in state.”
“For someone to come and take that away for no reason—it doesn’t make any sense,” he added.
According to data from the Gun Violence Archive, gun violence has killed more than 15,000 people in the United States since the beginning of the year, putting 2021 in close range of 2020, which was the deadliest on record for gun violence in at least two decades, with roughly 20,000 gun-related deaths, excluding suicides.
In May, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot pledged that her administration would direct resources to what she described as 15 high-crime areas in the city an effort to reduce violence.
“We owe it to all of our residents, in every neighborhood, to bring peace and vibrancy back,” Lightfoot said at a May 28 news conference addressing Chicago’s summer public safety strategy, according to video shared by WLS.
Chicago Police Department Supt. David Brown said at the time that addressing violence at its root was critical.
“It’s not more law enforcement capacity,” he said at the time. “It’s bringing more partners in to address some of the root causes of violence.”
Chicago police said they are looking for “an unidentified male offender who fled the scene on foot” after gunning down Melissa de la Garza. Her grandmother told WLS she had been shot seven times and alleged that three suspects were spotted fleeing the scene into a nearby alley.
“It is a nightmare,” Clara de la Garza told WLS in Spanish. “Who is going to fill this hole? It’s unbelievable how this city is being consumed by violence.”