Cooperation from Little Village community key to arrests in shooting death of 8-year-old girl, City Council member says

“It worked this time. It doesn’t work all the time,” said local Ald. Mike Rodriguez. But “like Melissa’s mother, I have hope. I refuse to be the victim of just the thoughts of doubt and despair. ... I believe in our community. I believe in us.”

SHARE Cooperation from Little Village community key to arrests in shooting death of 8-year-old girl, City Council member says
A memorial for 8-year-old Melissa Ortega in Little Village.

A memorial for 8-year-old Melissa Ortega in Little Village.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

Little Village Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd) on Thursday applauded the extraordinary level of community cooperation that led police to the two people charged with the murder of 8-year-old Melissa Ortega.

“What you had was community members all around the area communicating with police. You had people calling 911. You had people turning over their video willfully. This was a crime that was solved because neighbors stepped up and worked with the police,” Rodriguez said.

“It worked this time. It doesn’t work all the time. … [But], like Melissa’s mother, I have hope. I refuse to be the victim of just the thoughts of doubt and despair. I believe in our city. I believe in our community. I believe in us. I hope to my heart that this is a turning point.”

Rodriguez went out of his way to commend Area 4 detectives and rank-and-file officers from the Chicago Police Department’s Ogden District for knocking on doors to solicit community cooperation.

But, he argued, if not for the courage and heart of Little Village residents, police could not have zeroed in so quickly on 27-year-old Xavier Guzman, accused of driving the getaway car, and 16-year-old Emilio Corripio, charged with firing the fatal shot.

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.

GoFundMe

“We had private business owners, many other individuals, residents of our community who stepped up and wrapped their arms around Melissa Ortega’s family. Let this be an example of how we can come together to resolve these issues,” the alderman said.

“We have a very resistant community, a strong community that comes together. This community raised over $70,000 for this family and it’s still going. This community marched for these people and held a vigil for this family.”

According to police, Guzman and Corripio spotted three rival gang members standing at the corner of 26th Street and Komensky Avenue shortly before 3 p.m. Saturday.

Guzman pulled into an alley. Corripio, dressed in black, got out and opened fire. Melissa was crossing the street with her mom and was struck in the head. She collapsed as they ran together holding hands.

On Thursday, Rodriguez talked about the trauma that his own children and the children of other Little Village families experience — not just this time, but after other acts of violence.

“Three Halloweens ago, we were on 26th Street trick-or-treating right down the street from our house. … A friend of mine was opening a new business and he invited us in. Ten minutes after he was telling us about his new business, his mother rushed in and said, ‘Do not go outside. There was just a shooting,’” the alderman said.

“The shooting was a 7-year-old girl. ... My daughter was 7-years-old at the time. If it was 10 minutes earlier, that could have been her.”

Charged as a juvenile in three separate aggravated vehicular hijacking cases last year, Corripio pleaded to being delinquent in October in exchange for one of the cases being lowered to possession of a stolen motor vehicle, according to prosecutors, who said the teen was given three years probation.

While the case was pending, Corripio was at times released from the Juvenile Detention Center on electronic monitoring, or given a curfew, but he was not facing any pending cases on Saturday.

Guzman had no prior criminal history, prosecutors said.

Both men have been held without bail after being charged with murder, attempted murder and weapons charges in the Saturday attack that left Melissa Ortega dead.

Melissa’s mother, Aracelia Leanos, wrote a gut-wrenching letter that was read aloud by Matt DeMatteo, pastor of New Life Community Church in Little Village, during a news conference Wednesday at police headquarters.

She forgave her daughter’s killer and said, “You were the victim, too.”

Rodriguez agreed. He referred to it as the “poverty of the soul.”

“How did this young person believe that it’s OK to do this — to shoot another individual? There’s something wrong in our society where people are making those decisions and thinking they’re logical,” Rodriguez said.

“This issue of the poverty of the soul — we need to double-down and, thinking about communities like Little Village, North Lawndale, LeClaire and Garfield and Sleepy Hollow and how we’re investing in our young people, investing in what works and keeping them safe.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said gangs have “taken over” a proud Little Village community that has seen “too much heartbreak.”

Rodriguez disagreed.

“Gangs do not rule our community. Our community does. We are in fear. But those gang members are also family members to teachers, to pastors. They’re neighbors to people who work in our grocery stores and own businesses,” Rodriguez said.

“They need to be led in the appropriate direction. They are a part of our community. But they do not own our community.”

Contributing: Matthew Hendrickson


The Latest
The Rev. Immanuel Karunakaran was one of four McCormick Theological Seminary graduates who worked on the mural there. He says he aimed to show the complexity of ‘God within our suffering.’
Millions of the trackers have been sold since they were introduced last year. And reports to the Chicago Police Department of unwanted surveillance or stalking using them soon began.
Demarlin Brewer, 47, is also charged in a River North theft and burglary, Chicago police said.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services said “no signs of abuse, neglect or danger were noted by our investigator.”
Just cause to celebrate the first sweep of the medals by Chicago-area teams at the IHSA’s state finals for bass fishing and to ponder the state of the state finals and Carlyle Lake.