As a 16-year-old boy is charged with killing her young daughter, girl’s mom says she forgives him and calls him a victim, too

“To the aggressor, I forgive you,” Aracelia Leanos said in a statement read at a news conference announcing charges. “You were a victim, too. As a 16-year-old, the community failed you, just like it failed my precious baby.”

SHARE As a 16-year-old boy is charged with killing her young daughter, girl’s mom says she forgives him and calls him a victim, too
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People set up a memorial for 8-year-old Melissa Ortega at the corner of W. 26th St. and S. Pulaski Road in Little Village Monday, near where she was fatally shot Saturday as she walked to Walgreens with her mother. The suspected shooter and driver were in custody Tuesday, police said. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

As a 16-year-old boy was charged with fatally shooting an 8-year-old girl in Little Village, the child’s mother said she has already forgiven the suspect and called him a victim, too.

“To the aggressor, I forgive you,” Araceli Leanos said in a statement read at a news conference announcing the charges in the murder of Melissa Ortega. “You were a victim, too. As a 16-year-old, the community failed you, just like it failed my precious baby.

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“Although I do hope that in the many years you spend in prison you get time to reflect on your actions because you took away the most valuable thing I had in my life, my princess Melissa.”

Her words came after Chicago Police Supt. David Brown detailed the charges against the boy and a man accused of driving the getaway car on Saturday afternoon along busy 26th Street.

Xavier Guzman arrest photo

Xavier Guzman

Chicago police

Brown said the shooting occurred after Xavier Guzman, 27, and the teen spotted three rival gang members standing at the corner of 26th Street and Komensky Avenue shortly before 3 p.m.

Guzman pulled into an alley and the boy, dressed all in black, got out and opened fire. Melissa was crossing the street with her mother and was struck in the head. She collapsed as she ran with her mother, holding hands.

One of the gang members was hit in the back as he also ran away, Brown said. The boy ran back into the car which sped off.

Brown, disclosing new details, said the gunfire also hit a car but a man and his 9-year-old child were not injured.

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Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Police Supt. David Brown walk to a press conference at the CPD headquarters in the Bronzeville neighborhood, Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 26, 2022, where officials announced charges against suspects in the fatal shooting of 8-year-old Melissa Ortega.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The superintendent said investigators were able to piece together the events through police and private cameras. Guzman was arrested Monday after investigators pulled over a Toyota Camry believed to have been used in the shooting.

Guzman was behind the wheel and a loaded gun was found in the driver’s side door, according to a police report.Brown said the gun matched the one used in the shooting.

The boy, who hasn’t been identified, was arrested a day later.Both face murder, attempted murder and unlawful use of a weapon charges, with the teen charged as an adult.

Court records indicate Guzman was arrested twice, about three weeks apart, on low-level drug possession charges in May 2017, but charges were dismissed in both cases. During the news conference, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx also confirmed the teenager has a criminal record but said details won’t be disclosed until his bail hearing Thursday, when Guzman is also expected in court.

“Our city has been shaken and no one can make sense of this tragedy,” said Brown, who called Melissa “a precious little girl” who represented “the innocence and potential of every child in Chicago.”

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

GoFundMe

Melissa was a student at Zapata Academy in the neighborhood, and her family had recently moved here from Mexico.Earlier in the week, the family said she had come to this country to live “the American Dream” and became a victim of “American Violence.”

The mother’s statement was read by Matt DeMateo, pastor of New Life Community Church in Little Village.“We should be filled with sadness but anger, as well,” her statement read. “How is it possible that a little girl dies in broad daylight?”

Earlier in the week, the family released a statement calling for justice and noted that “too often we hear news of shootings across Chicago, this continuous activity makes us habituated to these types of scenes. That is NOT something we should have to be accustomed to. Please don’t let her die in vain. No more innocent kids should be killed. Mayor Lightfoot needs to make Chicago safe.”

Lightfoot, also speaking at the news conference, acknowledged the pervasive fear in Little Village and the concern that “gangs have taken over.” Saying the neighborhood has seen “too much heartbreak,” she noted that city officials and community leaders must work “to bring peace there once and for all.”

As a mother, Lightfoot said it was hard to imagine Leanos’ pain, at one point wiping tears from her face. “Nothing can bring back her life, taken far too soon,” The mayor said, adding that she hoped the charges brings “some measure of solace.”

A funeral is planned for Melissa this week, and the family plans a burial in Mexico.

A GoFundMe for Ortega’s funeral expenses raised more than $70,000, more than triple its original goal of $20,000. She will be buried in her hometown in Mexico, according to the page.

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