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More people sought in shooting deaths of 2-year-old and uncle

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson discusses the first-degree murder charges filed against Devon Swan in connection to the Valentine’'s Day shooting that left 2-year-old Lavontay White Jr. and his 26-year-old uncle dead, and a pregnant woman injured. Melissa Staples, chief of detectives, stands behind the police chief. | Max Herman/Sun-Times

As Judge Peggy Chiampas reminded the court how young 2-year-old Lavontay White Jr. was when he was fatally shot earlier this week, a Chicago Police officer seated in the press area of Cook County bond court scoffed and shook his head.

Chiampas ordered Devon Swan, 26, to be held without bail Saturday afternoon after he was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder in the Valentine’s Day shooting deaths of Lavontay and his 26-year-old uncle Lazarec Collins in the 2300 block of South Kenneth. Collins’ 21-year-old girlfriend, who is 4 months pregnant, was injured.

The judge added that, under state law, the shooting qualifies “as brutal, heinous, wanton cruelty.”

Lazarec Collins (left) and his nephew, Lavontay White, were killed in a shooting Tuesday in North Lawndale. | family photo
Lazarec Collins (left) and his nephew, Lavontay White, were killed in a shooting Tuesday in North Lawndale. | family photo

Prosecutors told the judge the shooting was retribution for the shooting death of one of Swan’s friends that he believed Collins was responsible for.

The three were in a car, with Collins’ girlfriend driving, shortly before 1:30 p.m. Tuesday when the shooting occurred.

As they were driving, a blue Chevrolet Spark, occupied by Swan and three others, pulled up alongside and two people inside opened fire, prosecutors said. The car is owned by Swan’s girlfriend, who loaned it to him after he dropped her off at work an hour earlier, prosecutors said.

Collins was shot five times in his abdomen, back and legs; Lavontay was shot once in the back of the head, prosecutors said. The bullet eventually exited through his cheek. Both were pronounced dead at Stroger Hospital.

Collins’ girlfriend was streaming live to Facebook at the time of the shooting and was shot once in the abdomen, authorities said. She was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital.

Devon Swan | Chicago Police
Devon Swan | Chicago Police

Before Swan’s hearing in bond court Saturday, police officials said more suspects were being sought and the investigation continues.

“This is a very active, very active, ongoing investigation,” Area Central Detectives Cmdr. Brendan Deenihan told reporters. “We’re looking for more people who are responsible for this.”

Prosecutors said Swan had told several people about his involvement in the shooting and also gave a videotaped statement to police.

His arrest was due in no small part to Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina, who helped connect witnesses with investigators, police said.

“We all know that there’s work to be done yet to rebuild trust between police and community, but our fractured relationship can not keep us from talking to each other, helping each other and working with each other to take killers off the street,” Pfleger said.

Swan was on parole at the time of his arrest, according to prosecutors.

Since 2008, he has been convicted of several crimes, including unlawful use of a weapon, armed robbery and drug possession, according to Illinois Department of Corrections records. Most recently, he was released on parole in April 2016 while serving time for drug possession and violating electronic monitoring.

Addressing reporters at a press conference, Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson again called on state lawmakers to pass legislation that would stiffen sentencing for repeat gun offenders.

“The fact of the matter is these repeat gun offenders have to get the message that we won’t stand for it,” Johnson said. “Our elected officials, our state legislators have to get the message we won’t stand for it.”

Lavontay was one of three children fatally shot within a three-day period earlier this week. Takiya Holmes, 11, and Kanari Gentry-Bowers, 12, were both shot in the head within an hour of each other Feb. 11 in separate incidents on the South Side.

Takiya, a relative of anti-violence activist and crisis responder Andrew Holmes, died Feb. 14. Antwan C. Jones, 19, has been charged with her murder. After his arrest, he was beaten by a fellow inmate in the Cook County Jail. The beating was captured on video by the Cook County sheriff’s office.

Kanari succumbed to her injuries Feb. 15. No one has been charged in her case, though police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said detectives are working day and night and making progress in her case, too.

“They’re very tired, but they’re very tenacious to get these cases solved,” Gugliemi said.

While a lack of economic opportunity has long been tied to violent crime, Johnson said that personal accountability plays an even bigger role.

“I recognize that in a lot of these impoverished areas, we have to do a better job of having economic support poured into them. We do. We owe that to them,” Johnson said.

“The long-term solution is the economic support, but right now here today, when I go into this mother’s home, she’s not saying, ‘Superintendent, get this guy a job.’ She’s saying, ‘Superintendent, stop this killing in my neighborhood,’ so that’s what we’re going to do.”