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Mass shooting outside Burnside church leaves community searching for answers

Pastor Roosevelt Watkins (standing) speaks at a community meeting Tuesday night at Bethlehem Star Missionary Baptist Church. | Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

Pastor Roosevelt Watkins (standing) speaks at a community meeting Tuesday night at Bethlehem Star Missionary Baptist Church. | Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

A day after six people were shot during a funeral outside Bethlehem Star Missionary Baptist Church, residents, faith leaders and elected officials met at the Burnside sanctuary to brainstorm ways to stem the violence they say breaks out all too often at memorial ceremonies.

“This shooting traumatized hundreds of people,” Pastor Roosevelt Watkins said to about 50 people in the pews of his church at 9231 S. Cottage Grove Ave. “This is not the norm in our community and it’s not acceptable. But many of us know the shooters and are doing nothing.”

Related: 6 people shot outside Burnside church after funeral services for rapper

The mass attack happened days before the first public meeting to be held by the Cook County Funeral and Cemetery Violence Task force, which was organized in March after a funeral shooting in west suburban Hillside, county commissioner Richard Boykin said.

“There are funeral directors who feel the need to arm themselves because they don’t know what’s going to happen,” Boykin said. “This is nonsense and we’re better than this. We need to toughen up on these things.”

Others noted that the crowd at the church on Tuesday included few of the young people so often entangled in violence.

“In our city, it’s an attitude of, ‘Not my child, not my problem.’ In our community, it’s us against them,” activist Demetrius Nash said. “So don’t be surprised when these young people aren’t coming into the church.”

The funeral was for a 25-year-old Chicago rapper, Vantrease R. Criss, who went by the name “Dooski Tha Man,” authorities said. Criss was shot and killed earlier this month in the Washington Park neighborhood on the South Side.

Gunfire erupted about 12:39 p.m. Monday outside the church, with the most seriously wounded a 21-year-old man shot in the head and in critical condition at University of Chicago Medical Center. The conditions of the remaining victims, all adults, had stabilized, authorities said.

Witnesses told police four people in hoodies fled the scene after the shooting along with a green Toyota Camry and a blue minivan. One witness said people were “shooting from both sides of the street,” according to a police radio transmission.

No arrests had been made in the shooting as of Tuesday night. Gresham District Cmdr. William Bradley said detectives were reviewing surveillance video that captured the shooting, noting that it showed some mourners at the funeral were armed.

Bradley also suggested police resources in the district were spread thin at the time the attack broke out. Before the funeral, he had assigned a patrol car to watch for “disorderly issues” outside the church, but officers were diverted by a person barricading themselves in a home nearby, as well as an officer who called for help.

Bradley himself ended up being the first officer to arrive at the scene. “It was pretty chaotic,” he said.