Alleged driver in fatal July Fourth shooting of 7-year-old girl held without bail
Natalia Wallace playing on the sidewalk at a family party in Austin when three men exited a car and fired in the direction of the gathering, striking Natalia in the head.
A convicted felon accused of driving three gunmen to a Fourth of July party where they opened fire and killed 7-year-old Natalia Wallace was ordered held without bail Tuesday.
The shooting, which was directed at the partygoers in Austin, including Natalia and several other children under the age 10, was believed to be carried out in retaliation for the June 29 murder of one of the alleged gunmen’s brothers, Cook County prosecutors said.
The men, who were driven to the scene by 33-year-old Reginald Merrill Saturday, had shot up an alley on the block two days before, believing the person responsible for the the June shooting lived there, prosecutors said,
Around 7 p.m. Saturday, Merrill drove the group of men to the 100 block of North Latrobe Avenue in a white 2016 Subaru Legacy registered to Merrill’s girlfriend, prosecutors said.
He slowed down and then allegedly stopped the car just past the family party, allowing the gunmen to exit the vehicle, fire at least at least 20 times and then get back in the car to flee.
Natalia and the other children were standing in the parkway when the bullets were fired, prosecutors said. The 7-year-old was struck in the head and fell to the ground. She was rushed to Stroger Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
A 32-year-old man was also hit in the ankle. He went to Mount Sinai Hospital where he was treated for his injuries.
After piecing together video from residential surveillance cameras and police POD cameras, detectives were able to take Merrill into custody when they saw him stopped in the Subaru near Pine Avenue and Augusta Boulevard two hours later, prosecutors said.
A man with a similar physical build as Merrill’s was captured in surveillance videos in the driver’s seat of the car. The man in the videos was wearing a white T-shirt like the one Merrill was wearing when he was taken into custody, prosecutors said.
Merrill allegedly told detectives he was the only person with keys to the car and the only person who drove it. He also identified the car as his in an image from surveillance footage from the shooting, prosecutors said.
Merrill said he was at a barbecue party at the time of the shooting but the alibi was disproven by detectives, prosecutors said.
The shooters left behind 9-mm and .40-caliber shell casings, authorities said.
Merrill’s defense attorney, Nick Burris, said prosecutors only presented circumstantial against Merrill, and did not have absolute proof that he was in the driver’s seat at the time of the shooting.
Merrill allowed his accomplices to shoot numerous times in “complete disregard for human life,” Judge Mary Marubio said after Burris asked that his client be released on bond.
“Anyone on the street was in harm’s way.”
Natalia was one of ten children under the age of 18 who were killed in shootings in the city since June 20, according to Chicago Sun-Times records. Vernado Jones Jr., 14, who was also killed on Fourth of July.
Natalia would have been a second-grader at Crown Community Academy of Fine Arts, 2128 S. St. Louis Ave., in the fall, her school said in a letter to parents Monday.
Natalia’s father, Nathan Wallace, also started a GoFundMe page to help cover memorial and funeral cover costs. By early Tuesday evening, the family had raised more than $4,000.
Prior convictions for assault, drug charges
Merrill, who was charged with first-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm, has spent much of his adult life behind bars.
Between 2008 and 2016 he served two separate four-year prison terms for drug offenses and for punching a Chicago police officer in the face with a closed fist as officers served an arrest warrant, according to court and police records. The officer’s injuries required hospital treatment.
Merrill has also faced charges of domestic battery and trespass to vehicles.
A domestic battery charge from earlier this year was dropped when a complaining witness didn’t show up for court in June.
Merrill is expected back in court July 27.
Contributing: Mitch Dudek, Frank Main and Nader Issa