Chicago authorities have arrested and charged two people with murder in connection with the fatal shooting of 8-year-old Melissa Ortega, whose horrific death after being struck by a stray bullet shook the city.
Police Superintendent David Brown on Wednesday said Xavier Guzman, 27, has been charged with several crimes, including first-degree murder, over the Saturday afternoon shooting in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. A 16-year-old, who has been charged with first-degree murder, first-degree attempted murder, and two counts of aggravated discharge of a firearm, has also been arrested. The teenager, who was detained on Tuesday, has not been identified because he is a minor.
Brown said the teenager was the shooter in the incident and that Guzman served as his getaway driver. Guzman was stopped by police on Monday in a car that was used during the deadly attack, the chief said. Kim Foxx, the city’s top prosecutor, added that the teen will eventually be charged as an adult and his criminal history revealed during a Thursday bond hearing.
“Our city has been shaken and no one can make sense of this tragedy,” Brown said, noting that he spoke with Ortega’s mother on Wednesday to tell her the arrest news. The chief said the arrests were made possible because the “community stepped up and came together and helped us solve this case.”
“Many people came forward with witness testimony about what they saw, who they saw, all the vehicles involved... and offered availability to our detectives,” Brown said.
In a statement read by New Life Community Pastor Matt DeMateo, Ortega’s mother, Araceli Leaños, asked for privacy as she grieves her “princess,” noting “words cannot describe the pain I am feeling.”
“We came in search of the American Dream... but instead I get to live a nightmare for the rest of my life,” Leaños said. “To the aggressor: I forgive you. You were a victim, too. As a 16-year-old, the community failed you, just like it failed my precious baby,” she added in the statement.
Police say Ortega—a third-grader at the Emiliano Zapata Academy who moved to the U.S. from Mexico about six months ago—was walking with her mother when “they heard shots and discovered the 8-year-old had been struck by gunfire” in the head. The girl was transported to Stroger Hospital, where she was pronounced dead less than two hours later, police said.
The hail of gunfire on Chicago street was reportedly meant for a 26-year-old man, who police say was hit twice in the lower back and survived. An internal police report obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times on Monday said that the 26-year-old was a member of the Gangster Two-Six street gang, which has feuded with rival gangs Latin Saints and the Latin Kings.
The report added that surveillance video reviewed by investigators showed a man, who has not been publicly identified but seen dressed in all black, chasing the 26-year-old while unloading his weapon. Once the shots began, Ortega and her mother reportedly ran towards a bank for cover.
Leaños told investigators that while they were running, she felt Ortega “go limp.” In a statement obtained by The Daily Beast on Monday, the family said that Ortega was running errands with Leaños that Saturday, and had asked her mother if they could get hamburgers just prior to the shooting.
In the Wednesday statement attributed to her, Leaños added, “Let Melissa be the last child that dies from gun violence in this neighborhood.”
In a previous Spanish-language interview with Univision, the mother had begged for those responsible for the death of her “sociable” daughter to come forward.
“You took my entire life,” Leaños said, explaining that she was seeking justice not only for her daughter but for other families who have lost loved ones to gun violence. “You took the most beautiful thing, you took my reason for living.… You have taken dreams from a marvelous girl.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, the online fundraiser for money to help the Ortega family bring the little girl back to Mexico for burial had amassed almost $70,000. A family spokesperson told The Daily Beast that a private ceremony for Ortega was set to take place in Chicago before the family traveled to Mexico next week for burial in Los Sauces, a small town in the state of Tabasco.
“They want to keep it private and closed to the public,” the spokesperson added.
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