Boy, 16, charged in mass shooting outside Juarez high school that killed 2 teens, wounded 2 others

“We currently don’t have a clear motive for why a 16-year-old would want to shoot and kill other kids,” Police Supt. David Brown said. “It’s unconscionable, as you can imagine, trying to find some reasoning behind it.”

SHARE Boy, 16, charged in mass shooting outside Juarez high school that killed 2 teens, wounded 2 others
A mourner at a vigil outside Benito Juarez Community Academy in Pilsen in December, three days after two teens were shot to death outside the school.

A mourner pays respect Dec. 19, 2002, at a vigil outside Benito Juarez Community Academy in Pilsen, three days after a mass shooting there killed two teenagers and wounded two others.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A 16-year-old boy was charged Friday with carrying out a deadly mass shooting outside Juarez Community Academy in Pilsen late last year that killed two teenagers and wounded two others.

The boy, whose name was not released, was charged as an adult with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder in the afternoon attack on Dec. 16 near the high school in the 2100 block of South Laflin Street, officials said at a news conference at Chicago police headquarters.

He was charged in juvenile court with felony counts of aggravated discharge on school grounds, aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and unlawful use of a weapon, officials said. He also faces a misdemeanor count of criminal trespass to a vehicle.

The shots were fired as classes were being dismissed for the weekend, sending students ducking for cover.

Brandon Perez, 15, and Nathan Billegas, 14, were pronounced dead at Stroger Hospital.

A boy and a girl, both 15, were wounded, police said.

“I want to extend my condolences to the families of the young people whose lives were taken from them far too early by this senseless act of violence,” Chicago Police Supt. David Brown told reporters.

“I also want to let the surviving victims know that we stand with you as you continue to heal and process and grieve the horrific events of that day.

“And to the entire Juarez High School community … we are here to support you.”

Brown said the suspect was arrested Thursday at his home. He was in possession of a vehicle that was previously reported stolen, police said in a news release.

Details about the circumstances of the shooting will be explained at the suspect’s bail hearing Saturday, Brown said.

“We currently don’t have a clear motive for why a 16-year-old would want to shoot and kill other kids,” Brown said. “And it’s unconscionable, as you can imagine, trying to find some reasoning behind it. It’s senseless. There’s no good reason.”

Ines Billegas, Nathan Billegas’ stepmother, said despite the arrest she’s “still kind of lost with everything … because I’m not sure who they have and they didn’t really say yet.”

Police didn’t disclose the suspect’s name to her. Since the shooting, she has spoken to a detective “probably like three times,” getting most details from news reports.

“I’m not sure if the person they have is the right person,” she said. “I’m not really sure, to be honest with you.”

For many in Pilsen, the shooting struck a nerve because the high school is so entwined with the neighborhood’s history. In the days after the shooting, some students returned to school before winter break, while others stayed home.

Some led a vigil and march around the neighborhood to decry gun violence. And residents signed up for shifts to hand out hot chocolate and snacks to students outside school as a memorial grew for the two slain teens.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez, a Juarez alumnus, reflected on the “large tragedy” at his alma mater.

“Bringing this closure is very important toward restoring the calm and safety that all of our school communities need and deserve,” Martinez said at the news conference at CPD.

Martinez noted Juarez has been deemed “a high priority” in terms of security, along with Michele Clark Academic Prep Magnet High School in South Austin; three teenagers were shot near that campus in August.

Juarez voted out school resource officers in 2020, becoming the second school in the district to do so. But Martinez said CPS continues to work in tandem with Chicago police. Officers patrol near schools during dismissal and watch for “suspicious activity” throughout the day.

“There’s not one single answer to violence in our communities. It requires parents, schools and community members and police working together to support our youth both inside and outside our buildings.”

Jadine Chou, the school district’s security chief, said there will be an after-school police presence outside Juarez through the end of the school year. Meanwhile, she said, students are being offered mental health support to cope with the shooting.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx recalled a classmate being killed while she attended Lincoln Park High School in the late 1980s. Given her own experience, the shooting at Juarez is likely a memory students there “will carry with them for the rest of their lives,” Foxx said.

“It is because of this, and the trauma that has been inflicted upon them, that we must be extra delicate in how we deal with our young people in the aftermath of this loss.”

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