Rogers Park was flooded with police officers on Wednesday as the frantic search continued for the killer believed responsible for the shooting deaths of two men over a 36-hour period.
Local Ald. Joe Moore (49th) said the sense of panic is heightened by the fact that neither robbery nor hate was the motive for the shootings and there is no apparent connection between the two victims: one gay, the other an Orthodox Jew, shot just a few blocks apart.
Douglas Watts, 73, was walking his dogs just after 10 a.m. Sunday near his home in the 1400 block of West Sherwin Avenue when someone walked up and shot him in the head.
Eliyahu Moscowitz, 24, was shot in the head at point-blank range on a lakefront path late Monday near Lunt Avenue.
Expedited ballistics tests performed by federal authorities on shell casings found at the shooting scenes confirmed both victims were shot at close range with bullets from the same gun. It’s likely the same shooter, police said.
Chicago Police have released a surveillance image from a camera near the scene of Watts’ shooting; it shows a person dressed in dark clothing with a hooded mask. Police describe him as a black male with a thin build.
Hours before a Wednesday night community meeting on the shootings, Moore said the Rogers Park community is crawling with police officers.
But the saturation patrols — similar to the attention South and West Side neighborhoods get after a violent summer weekend — are not enough to ease the panic among local residents caused by the random spree killings.
“People are frightened. They’re afraid to go out. This is such a random act. There’s no rhyme or reason for it, other than this person is obviously a disturbed individual. Robbery is not a motive. It’s not anything having to do with a gang dispute. The two victims have just been at the wrong place at the wrong time. That just heightens the fear,” Moore said.
“If it was a robbery, at least you’d have some sort of rational explanation. But their valuables were not taken from them. They were both shot in the side of the head and at close range. No apparent connection between the victims. Shot within a half-mile of each other. One at 10 in the morning. One at 10:20 at night.”
Geri Murray said she has lived in Rogers Park for 12 years. She said the shootings made her think about other neighborhoods that are more consistently affected by gun violence.
“We are very much mourning the loss of innocent life. It does make you pause to think about — there are neighborhoods where they’re dealing with this all the time and parts of our country and our world where people are being traumatized constantly by this,” said Murray, who was out walking along the lakefront Wednesday near the scene of the second shooting.
“This is a rare occurrence for us so it is more shocking that way.”
She added that while she felt some fear after the shootings, she wouldn’t let them stop her from relishing the neighborhood’s “artsy, Bohemian vibe.”
“It’s just a beautiful place to live and I’m not going to let anything keep me from enjoying it every day.”
Alie Katz said the shootings, especially their randomness, made her feel “sick to my stomach” and fearful for her 11- and 12-year-old children.
“The boy that was shot, I would see him in the park. I know other people who would play Pokémon with him,” she said. “So, it’s scary to me.”
Moore said Chicago Police were literally going door-to-door asking Rogers Park residents holed up in their homes if they know or had seen anything that might lead to the killer.
Moore lives a block and a half from where Watts was shot while walking his dogs.
The alderman said he was outside his home around the time of the shooting, but did not hear the shots. He learned about the murder about an hour later after receiving a text from the Rogers Park district commander.
The spree killings follow a particularly difficult period for Rogers Park, a community not normally known for its violent crime.
It was nearly a year ago that the murder of a 64-year-old Rogers Park teacher prompted Inspector General Joe Ferguson to write a blistering op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Among other things, Ferguson wrote that the Chicago Police Department “does not have a comprehensive crime strategy” and demanded that Supt. Eddie Johnson develop one, with help — not with people handpicked by City Hall, but from experts. Ferguson also wrote that “CPD’s shamefully low case-clearance rate – about 25 percent of homicides and less than 5 percent of non-fatal shootings in Chicago result in arrests – is astonishingly below any respectable national standard.”
Ferguson caught backlash from some black aldermen who wondered why it took the death of someone close to him for Ferguson to call out the mayor and police.
“We deal with this every day,” Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) had said then.
Last month, 25-year-old Northwestern University graduate student Shane Columbo was struck and killed by gang crossfire near Clark and Howard while walking to the Howard “L” station in Rogers Park.
“It’s been very rough for our community. We have occasional incidents of gang violence. But rarely does it affect people who are not in the gang lifestyle. Innocent people, so to speak. These crimes have really shaken the community to its core, particularly the last two because there just seems to be no rhyme or reason for them other than the actions of a very sick individual,” Moore said.
Long known as a melting pot, Moore said Rogers Park is a “very resilient community” that will survive the uncharacteristic outbreak of violence.
But, the alderman said, “Everyone’s mind will be put at ease if we are able to apprehend the individual who did these last two crimes.”
Mark Ballard, who has lived in Rogers Park 27 years, said officers in the neighborhood are “very attentive.”
“They’re available on the street. They’ll stop and talk to you,” Ballard said Wednesday.
On the other hand, he added, at a time like this, those officers may be more apprehensive.
As a result, Ballard, African-American men could be “particularly on edge right now because they all feel that they could the a target of a police search and arrest and I feel really horrible about that.”
Sources said the saturation patrols in Rogers Park may not be sustainable once a verdict is reached in the trial of Jason Van Dyke for the murder of Laquan McDonald. Johnson has said 12-hour shifts would be instituted in preparation of the verdict, which could come this week, and a police source said Wednesday those longer shifts are going into effect on Thursday.
CPD also has canceled days off to quell any adverse community reaction to the verdict.
That has some community residents concerned the spree killer may lay low for now, striking again after police attention is diverted elsewhere.
Contributing: Mitchell Armentrout