Maria Medina was on her way to tend to her backyard when she saw a young teen walking her dog with her boyfriend.
She recognized the 14-year-old girl; her family were nice people from the same Back of the Yards neighborhood where Medina has lived for over 30 years. From the back of her house Medina heard two gunshots and, when she thought it safe, ventured to the front to find paramedics trying to save the seventh grader’s life.
“It’s so sad,” Medina, 76, said in Spanish.
The teen and her boyfriend had just bought snacks from a store at the corner of 48th and Wood streets around 6 p.m. Wednesday when they were confronted by three young gunmen, according to police and the alderman of the ward.
They asked if she was in a gang and she said she wasn’t, at which point the three chased her halfway down the block and opened fire, according to Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), who said he got the details from police.
The gunmen jumped into an SUV and sped off. The girl was taken to Comer Children’s Hospital in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the head, police said. She underwent surgery Wednesday night.
No one was in custody.
A classmate of the girl said she’s outgoing and always befriending new people. She’s an avid drawer and part of their school’s art club, the classmate noted.
“She could talk to anyone and make you feel so comfortable,” the classmate said. “And she really loved her dog.”
Police have said little publicly about what led to the confrontation. Medina said that, in all her years living in the neighborhood, she’s never seen anything like it.
The Back of the Yards neighborhood has been a hot spot for homicides over the years, but within the last year the numbers have significantly dropped. In 2020, the New City community area — which includes Back of the Yards and Canaryville — had 11 homicides. It has seen only three so far this year.
Even so, some residents say shootings have gotten worse recently.
“You can’t come out walking at nights because there is shooting everywhere,” said Jessica Martinez, 38. “I’m scared to take my babies to the park that’s nearby, and I don’t understand what’s going on.”
Lopez tweeted that he heard shots near a grade school Wednesday as he watched police work the scene where the girl was shot.
“What the hell is going on tonight?” he asked. “I’m still on scene for the gang shooting in Back of the Yards and now 17 rounds fired off in front of Shields Elementary School in Brighton Park.”
Others at the scene were clearly on edge.
Mariah McClinton, 20, said she heard two gunshots and ran to the window to see what was going on. The shooters had already left, but she saw a crowd gathering near the girl and shouting that one of the gunmen had run into her apartment building — which wasn’t true.
“This guy, I don’t know who he was, but he ran up in our building and he started banging on my door,” McClinton said. “I was terrified because he was banging on the door so loud and kicking it that I thought he was going to break it down. I didn’t know if he was one of the shooters trying to hide or who he was. I thought me and my daughter were going to get shot.”
McClinton was alone in the apartment with her 3-year-old daughter. As the banging grew more intense, she pushed her refrigerator in front of the door.
“I called the police telling them there is some man banging on my door, that they need to send someone to stop him,” McClinton said. “But the operator just said it might be the police since they are investigating an incident nearby and I should probably answer the door.
“I knew it wasn’t the cops,” she added. “After what seemed like forever, officers came and stopped the man.”
McClinton said her landlord just informed her that her rent is going from $500 a month to $1,200. But after Wednesday’s shooting she is preparing to move.
“I get they are trying to make this neighborhood more high-end because it has gotten somewhat better in terms of crime, but there is still too much of it here,” McClinton said.
Lopez said a new gang in the area has been recruiting from neighborhood schools — focusing on kids 15 years and younger. He blamed the glorification of gang culture for violence in his ward.
“This elevation of gang life has to come to an end. It’s not cute. It only comes to one outcome, what we saw last night,” he told the Sun-Times.
The girl’s classmate, who’s in eighth grade, said the new gang had been encroaching on the block, with members in both high school and middle school. The classmate once saw them on the block talking to young people.
“She was friends with everyone and tried to be if she could, even people who were affiliated with the old and the new gang,” the classmate said. “I think it’s related to that, and I just want police to know this information.”
On Thursday evening, dozens gathered on the corner of 48th and Wood for a vigil.
Lithzuly Pizano, a friend of the wounded teen, spoke out against statements made by officials attributing the shooting solely to gang violence, arguing that violence in neighborhoods like Back of the Yards stems from disinvestment.
“I think it’s important to note that this is all a result of a lack of investment and a lack of importance being placed on our children in low-income neighborhoods such as Back of the Yards,” Pizano said. “There is so much that she could have done, and there’s so much that she will be doing. There is hope.”
Pizano said her friend spends most of her time with her younger sister and used to participate in park district programs that were temporarily cut due to COVID-19. Pizano wouldn’t comment on the young girl’s condition but said her friend “is a fighter.”
Berto Aguayo, executive director of the community organization Increase the Peace, shared a similar message that regardless of background, the lives of all children in Chicago matter.
“There is no way or no reason why in our community it should be this normal for young people to continuously be lost to the streets,” Aguayo said.
Since Thursday of last week, at least 10 people 18 or younger have been shot in the city.
Through the end of May, 1,386 people were shot in Chicago, a jump from 1,116 during the same time in 2020. Murders have risen 5% compared to 2020, with the police department reporting 252 murders so far this year.
Anyone with information about the shooting can call Area 1 detectives at (312) 747-8384.