‘It scared everybody.’ Students leave class to remember victims of mass shooting outside Benito Juarez high school
Nathan Billegas, 14, and Brandon Perez, 15, were killed and two other teens — a boy and a girl, both 15 — were wounded as classes were being dismissed Friday at the school in the 2100 block of South Laflin Street.
As the day darkened and drew colder Monday, the memorial outside Benito Juarez High School grew with flowers and lighted candles and messages written on posters on the spot where two students were killed last week.
“It definitely scared me, it scared everybody,” Alex, a sophomore at Benito Juarez, said after leaving two candles and a few posters. “Today at school, it was really depressing and really sad, everybody was talking about it.”
Nathan Billegas, 14, and Brandon Perez, 15, were killed and two other teens — a boy and a girl, both 15 — were wounded outside the school in the 2100 block of South Laflin Street as classes were being dismissed Friday.
Chicago police have released grainy photos of a suspect dressed all in black running from the school but have reported no one in custody. Community activists have offered $2,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the gunman.
Nathan was a student at Chicago Bulls College Prep, about 1 1/2 miles north of Juarez, and had come by the school to meet his friend Brandon, according to Nathan’s family. They said he was excited when he learned he was accepted at the Noble Charter school.
“Nathan was a very intelligent, outgoing and a kind-hearted young boy,” his sister said on a GoFundMe page.
”If you knew Nathan, you knew he would go out of his way for anybody if they needed it. He had the biggest heart.”
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Brandon’s family said he hoped to some day run a construction business.
“With this goal in mind, he dreamed of removing his mother and sister from their rough neighborhood and creating more stability in their lives,” a relative, Eduardo Martinez, said on GoFundMe.
“He began his journey this year by taking part in a seasonal summer job working part-time under a construction company to acquire any basic skills he could obtain at a very young age,” he added.
Martinez said Brandon “had a unique relationship with his younger sister, who looked up to him as a brother and her best friend. They would always protect and care for each other.
“Brandon loved being around his family, playing video games with his cousins and friends, enjoying soccer, and losing himself in movies and music,” Martinez said. “Brandon was a quiet young man that impacted the lives of his loved ones, even through his timidness... He will be missed immensely by everyone.”
Students left messages for both Nathan and Brandon as they released white, red and black balloons around 1 p.m. Monday. They hugged and huddled during a few moments of silence for the two.
“At the end of the day, regardless of the situation, no one deserves to go out like that,” one student told the crowd.
Community organizers such as Tanya Lozano and William Guerrero, along with anti-violence street workers, wore bright yellow vests as they created a perimeter around the students. Some of the organizers led the group is prayer while others passed out hot chocolate, water and pizza.
“We have a responsibility to get through this together,” Lozano told the students. “Everyone here is in support of each other.”
The students later marched through Pilsen holding signs that said, “Protect our youth.”
CPS CEO Pedro Martinez, a graduate of Benito Juarez, said in a letter to families that he was struck by the compassion and concern among students and staff.
“I saw teachers greet the school’s principal with warm embraces as they fought back tears. I watched community volunteers offer students breakfast and hot chocolate,” Martinez said. “I watched students reconnect with friends after an extremely difficult weekend. Seeing the human connection was a reminder that one of our best resources for healing is each other — embracing fellow members of our communities who are going through a similar experience.”
At least 37 children 15 and younger have been killed in Chicago this year. They are among at least 672 homicides recorded in the city this year.
Friday’s attack marks the third shooting this year during dismissal outside a Chicago public high school.
In August, four teens were shot in a drive-by attack near an ice cream shop across the street from Schurz High School. This month, a 16-year-old girl was shot and killed outside Michele Clark Academic Prep Magnet High School.
On Monday, community activist Ricky Medina called on “older guys in the streets” to stop the violence and be a better example for the youth.
“It’s not fair, we’re burying our kids,” Medina said. “The moms are crying. Either the politicians gotta step up, or we gotta step up. We all got to come together and stop this violence.”