It’s been 25 years, two months and three weeks since Diane Santiago’s son was killed in a shooting in Ashburn on the South Side.
But no one was ever arrested in the case — until this week.
“I never gave up. I prayed and prayed,” Santiago said after a bail hearing for her son’s accused killer at the Leighton Criminal Court Building Thursday. “When I got the phone call on Tuesday I screamed. … I said this is the best day of my life.”
FROM THE SUN-TIMES ARCHIVES: Teen dies trying to keep sister safe from gangs
Edgar Ortega, 44, was arrested Monday at O’Hare Airport and charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Santiago’s son, Richard Montclair, Cook County prosecutors said at the initial court hearing Thursday.
Ortega, who spent years on the run hiding in Mexico, appeared in the courtroom dressed in a blue Adidas coat and black track pants and looked ahead stoically throughout the hearing.
Ortega’s defense attorney, John Berg, said Ortega called him last month to discuss turning himself in.
“He thinks it was the right thing to do,” Berg said after the hearing. “We’re going to argue this was a matter of self-defense, pure and simple. He wants to tell his story.”
The shooting happened early on Dec. 18, 1993 after an argument between the two men — both 18 at the time — in the 7800 block of South Hamlin, prosecutors said.
Montclair began to chase Ortega, who ran before turning around and shooting at Montclair several times, striking him once in the heart, prosecutors said.
Montclair was taken to Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where he was pronounced dead. Ortega fled the area, eventually relocating to Mexico, where he had family, prosecutors said.
After Ortega was taking into custody on Monday, he was re-identified as the shooter by witnesses and charged, prosecutors said.
Berg told Judge Michael Clancy that Ortega had been working as an English teacher in Mexico and had a teenage daughter. He said Ortega could post $50,000 for bond, noting Ortega had voluntarily returned to face the charge and could live with his mother in the south suburbs while on bond.
“Your honor, [Ortega] is here voluntarily and will be here for every court date,” Berg told the judge.
Clancy ordered Ortega held without bail during the hearing, citing Ortega fleeing to Mexico 25 years earlier.
Two members of Ortega’s family attended the hearing, but declined to comment.
Montclair’s mother and brothers, Robert and Eddie Santiago, also attended the hearing Thursday and brought with them a framed photo of the young man who neighbors said “hated the gangs” and “stood for all the right things,” according to a 1993 Sun-Times article on the shooting.
“We’ve waited a long time for this, and now, finally, justice,” Diane Santiago told reporters in the courthouse lobby on Thursday.
The family said Montclair had other run-ins with the gangs as he tried to keep them out of his neighborhood and was trying to protect his 14-year-old sister on the night he was killed.
Robert Santiago, who was photographed by the Sun-Times in 1993 as he arranged flowers on a memorial to his brother, said he was frustrated by how many years it took for the family to see Ortega in court, but also relieved.
“There are so many families in Chicago that are waiting for their call. We got our call.”
“Keep the faith,” he advised.