Chicago’s top cop vows sweeping response to killing of 8-year-old girl; mayor says police have ‘promising leads’

Supt. David Brown told reporters that “we owe it to Melissa and her family and to the city to hold every person involved accountable.”

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot, shown at a Monday news conference, offered a few comments on the fatal shooting of an 8-year-old girl in Little Village on Saturday.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, shown at a Monday news conference, offered a few comments on the fatal shooting of an 8-year-old girl in Little Village on Saturday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Top Chicago police officials on Monday blamed the fatal weekend shooting of an 8-year-old girl in Little Village on a longstanding gang conflict, and said they plan to saturate the neighborhood with officers and investigators to deter retaliatory attacks and build cases against the “drivers of violence.”

In promising a sweeping response to the murder of Melissa Ortega, Supt. David Brown told reporters that “we owe it to Melissa and her family and to the city to hold every person involved accountable. And we must seek justice for every Chicagoan living under the threat of gun violence every day.

“It’s just unspeakable to lose the life of an 8-year-old, a little girl, under these tragic circumstances — or any circumstances, for that matter,” he said.

Melissa was walking with her mother near 26th Street and Pulaski Road Saturday afternoon when a gunman dressed in black stepped from an alley and opened fire. Melissa was struck twice in the head and collapsed as she ran with her mother.

The intended target, a 26-year-old man tied to the Gangster Two Six street gang, was hit twice in the back and critically wounded, according to police.

Chief of Patrol Brian McDermott said additional resources were immediately sent in, and are there still. “Specialized units from across the city will saturate the area in the coming days and weeks to vigorously address the gang conflict that caused Melissa’s death,” he said.

Ernest Cato, chief of the department’s counterterrorism bureau, said patrols have increased and more seatbelt checks and traffic stops are being conducted. Gang, firearm and narcotics investigators are being deployed to conduct intelligence gathering “for targeted arrests to decrease impact of drivers of violence.”

While Mayor Lori Lightfoot earlier Monday had said police were following promising leads, Brown and the other officials offered few details.

“We’ve turned up the heat on gangs in the city and we will continue to do that,” he said. “But this special focus is purposeful because an 8-year-old … is senselessly killed in our city. So I think it’s quite appropriate that we raise the level of resources, our sense of urgency to send an even stronger message to gangs, particularly in the Little Village neighborhood.”

Brown used the opportunity to call on federal, state and local lawmakers “to join us in doing everything possible to fight gun violence.” However, he didn’t mention what legislation he wants passed, aside from Lightfoot’s controversial gang forfeiture ordinance.

He also declined to say whether investigators had footage showing Melissa holding hands with her mother when she was shot. A police report said Melissa’s mother reported she was running with her daughter when the girl went “limp” after being struck.

Brown acknowledged what the city’s own data has shown for the last few years: gun violence is steadily rising.

“Over the weekend, Melissa had her entire family stripped away in an instant,” he said. “But the fact is we have too many hard days just like this in the city of Chicago.”

The number of children 15 and younger who have died in fatal shootings has steadily increased, jumping from 12 in 2019 to 26 in 2020 and 27 last year. So far this year, five children 15 and younger have been killed, compared with just one for all of January 2021.

Anyone with information about Melissa’s shooting can leave an anonymous tip at (833) 408-0069. Any tipsters who provide information leading to an arrest or conviction can receive up to a $15,000 reward.

The mayor extended her public condolences to the girl’s family.

“Losing a child under any circumstances is horrifying. And the circumstances in which this family lost this precious, precious child is almost unspeakable,” the mayor said at an unrelated news conference.

“As it always does, the Little Village community has really stood up and rallied to wrap its arms around the Ortega family and really help with every conceivable need,” she said.

Lightfoot held out hope for a speedy arrest. “I can’t get into a lot of details. But I can tell you … that there are some promising leads. And I hope that we’ll have a more substantive announcement soon,” she said.

Melissa Ortega, 8, was killed when she was struck by two stray bullets last weekend in Little Village.

Melissa Ortega, 8, was killed when she was struck by a stray bullet Saturday in Little Village.

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The mayor pushed back hard against those who claim she is focusing on “the wrong things” by continuing to lobby for her controversial plan to seize ill-gotten assets from gang leaders.

Calling gangs and guns “primary drivers” of Chicago violence, Lightfoot said the “notion that we would not use every tool to go after them and, particularly to take away the profit motive” is ludicrous.

She noted Melissa’s murder was the result of an “inter-gang conflict.”

“Obviously, this little girl was not the intended target. But the fact that they are reckless and operate without any regard for the sanctity of human life — we’ve got to stand up and stop them and use every tool at our disposal to do so,” she said.

“We continue to be very strong and aggressive in our gang investigations and making sure that we’re taking guns out of their hands taking drugs out of their hands. But we also have to go after the profit motive. ... Our Victims Justice Ordinance is focused on doing just that Going before a court. Putting together evidence that identifies gang leaders — the hierarchy, the shot-callers — who are wreaking havoc on our neighborhoods.”

The ordinance that Lightfoot called an “absolute necessity” in the war on gangs has been stalled for months amid stiff resistance from the City Council.

Nevertheless, Lightfoot said she looks forward to a final vote “and its passage.”

“We cannot rest while we see this increase in violence. A lot of it is driven by gangs and illegal guns. If we go after the profit motive, we’re going to reduce the incentive for the gangs. We’re gonna reduce their ability to buy illegal guns and use their profits to continue to further their business,” she said.

“We’ve got to demonstrate to our residents in neighborhoods under siege that we are there by their sides. We are not gonna leave any stone unturned until we bring peace to those neighborhoods.”

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