The crime was brazen, occurring just two blocks from Chicago Police Department’s Bronzeville headquarters. And on Friday, police arrested the person who, they say, was aiming at a rival gang member but killed city 311 operator Yvonne Nelson.
He’s a juvenile, 15 years old at the time of the May 20 crime, so his identity was not released. Now 16, he’s charged with first-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm, and police will seek to have him charged as an adult.
The minor is expected to appear in Juvenile Court on Monday, according to Sally Daly, spokeswoman for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office.
The teen was on probation for a series of 2014 robberies committed with a BB gun, Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said at a news conference at police headquarters, where he called the incident yet another example of the need for tougher gun laws.
“Last month, many of us stood in this room on a Friday afternoon, just like today, when CPD had announced the largest gang enforcement initiative in the history of the department. Around the same time, Yvonne Nelson had just left a Starbucks down the street with a coffee in her hand, headed for her car,” Johnson said, flanked by several department units and the U.S. Marshal’s office who worked the case.
“At that time, a stray bullet meant for a documented gang member that was running away from the offender and in Yvonne’s direction, struck her instead, and ended her life far too soon,” he said.
The shooting had the air of insult, not just for the proximity, but coming, as Johnson noted, minutes after the press conference touting a major gang takedown.
It was just before 4 p.m. when a 19-year-old man flagged down officers in the 3500 block of South State Street, saying he had been shot. Police then found Nelson, 49, on a sidewalk nearby with a gunshot wound to the chest. A communications operator for 311 City Services since 2002, she later died at Stroger Hospital.
Police were able to identify the teen through surveillance video, crediting some 2nd District tactical officers with having built relationships with the Bronzeville community that led several residents and business owners to offer their video footage.
“We were approached by several citizens who we had a really good rapport with, who were willing to give up personal video footage of this offender that was involved in this incident, and with that information, we were able to make steps to locate him,” said one of them, tactical officer Matthew Purches.
Chief of Detectives Eugene Roy said officers were relentless.
“Using that video, the officers were able to track the offender’s movements before, during and after the murder. Area Central Homicides located additional witnesses, and these detectives relentlessly pursued leads,” Roy said.
That led to an arrest warrant. Then, CPD’s Fugitive Apprehension Unit visited the teen’s family, who agreed to bring the teen in, then reneged, police said.
“When we couldn’t get cooperation from family members, we then started to home in on associates of the young offender,” said Sgt. Kevin Muth of the Fugitive Apprehension Unit. “We conducted several surveillances on the known locations of these associates, and narrowed down the location where our young offender would be. So earlier today, we were able to locate and arrest the young offender who was solely responsible for taking another human life that day.”
The day of the murder, Johnson walked the two blocks from CPD headquarters at 35th and Michigan to the crime scene. He said the arrest sends a message to gangs.
“On that date, I said to the press that if an offender chooses a lifestyle that fuels the engine of violence in our city, then they will feel the full weight of the Chicago Police Department and be held accountable for their actions,” the superintendent said. “I go back to what I said. This sends a message: You will be held accountable.”