Members of the La Raza street gang are believed to be responsible for shooting two Chicago Police tactical officers Tuesday — and one of the gunmen was using a .223-caliber rifle, most likely an assault weapon such as an AR-15, law enforcement sources said Wednesday.
Both officers have been released from Stroger Hospital where they were treated for their wounds. One officer, the son of a high-ranking Chicago police official, was shot in the hip and arm. The other was hit in the back, authorities said. The officers fired back, but it’s unclear whether anyone was struck.
The officers were in an unmarked tactical van investigating a prior gang-related shooting when their van was riddled with bullets just after 9 p.m. Tuesday near 43rd and Ashland.
Police have been questioning three “persons of interest” and found one of the vehicles they believe was used in the shootings — a Chrysler minivan. The minivan was recovered near 38th and Racine shortly after the officers were wounded and it had an apparent bullet hole in it.
Police are investigating whether the shooters were tipped off about where the officers were — or whether they were randomly targeted.
“It’s a miracle the officers are still alive,” said Anthony Guglielmi, chief spokesman for the police department.
Police said the shooting happened in the gang territory of the Almighty Saints. Investigators suspect the shooters were members of the rival La Raza gang. Bystanders outside a busy strip mall on Ashland heard the pop, pop, pop of the guns, saying about a dozen shots were fired rapidly.
“My partner’s shot, my partner’s shot!” one of the officers screamed on the police radio as he frantically called for help.
Afterward, officers blocked off about four miles of cross streets between the shooting scene and Stroger Hospital to allow the officers’ ambulances to get there quickly.
A massive manhunt was launched for the suspects in the surrounding Back of the Yards neighborhood. Outside of Stroger Hospital, police Supt. Eddie Johnson angrily vowed that the shooters would be captured.
A rifle and a handgun were both recovered in connection with the officers’ shootings. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is checking where the guns were originally purchased, and by whom.
As in other parts of the city, police in the Back of the Yards neighborhood have seen a rise in the use of military-style rifles in the ongoing shooting wars that contributed to Chicago’s murder toll of nearly 800 people last year.
Still, murders and nonfatal shootings are both down so far this year in the Deering police district which serves the Back of the Yards neighborhood, compared with the same period of 2016.
Newly elected Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham issued a statement Wednesday decrying the “latest unprovoked attack on police officers doing nothing more than carrying out their sworn duties.”
Graham said the incident “highlights yet again the dangers police officers in Chicago and all across the country are faced with every day. I hope politicians and the media realize how dangerous police work truly is and what courage officers demonstrate each and every day, as this shooting illuminates.”
No other officers have been shot at or wounded this year. According to police statistics, 12 officers were shot at in the first four months of 2016 and nine were struck, none fatally. Fourteen were shot during the same period of 2015 and none was struck.
Police have shot five people so far this year and they shot 21 people over the same period of 2016, according to police figures.
Contributing: Mitch Dudek, Mitchell Armentrout and Jacob Wittich