The Little Village community is again mourning the death of a child due to gun violence.
Eight-year-old Melissa Ortega was running errands with her mother, Araceli Leaños, on West 26th street on Saturday when a gunman opened fire. Melissa was struck twice in the head and later died at Stroger Hospital.
“Me mataron a mi bebé. Me la mataron…mi princesa mi dulce niña,” wrote Leaños in a Spanish language statement released by the family. “They killed my baby. They killed her… my princess, my sweet girl.”
According to an internal police report obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, the intended target is a member of the Gangster Two-Six street gang. The report states that the suspect, being treated at Mount Sinai for gunshot wounds, has been arrested 13 times and convicted of two felonies. Investigators say Gangster Two-Six has been known to feud with the Latin Saints and Latin Kings gangs.
Melissa and her mother immigrated to Chicago from Mexico this past August, according to a statement in a GoFundMe fundraiser set up to help pay for the child’s funeral expenses and to bring her body back to her hometown of Tabasco. “They were both excited to start a new life in Chicago and build their American Dream,” the fundraiser organizer wrote.
Dozens of people gathered at a growing memorial near where Melissa was killed Sunday afternoon, leaving flowers, candles, and other gifts. “Por favor ya paren tanta violencia,” said Maria Monroy in Spanish at the rally. Monroy, whose 16-year-old daughter was shot and killed in Little Village in December 2019, said to please stop the violence.
“How many children must we lose before we change course?” wrote Representative Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a resident of Little Village, in a statement. Garcia called Melissa’s death “a senseless, heartbreaking casualty of the gun violence.
On March 29, 2021, a police officer shot and killed 13-year-old Adam Toledo. Adam, investigators say, was with known gang member Ruben Roman Jr. the night of his death. Police were responding to gunshots being fired in the area.
SUGGESTION: Living (And Dying) In Fear
“We simply must hold the shooters accountable for this horrific crime,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. “Please come forward so that Melissa [Ortega’s] family will know that there is justice for her.”
Lightfoot insisted the key to reducing gang violence must include her controversial plan to go after their assets. “If we go after the profit motive we’re going to reduce the incentive for the gangs, we’re going to reduce their ability to buy illegal guns and use their profits to continue to further other business.”
Last week, City Council members were presented with changes to the forfeiture ordinance that has come under fire since it was presented in September. “We believe that ordinance is just a PR move right now, so the administration can say that they are doing something about crime, but the reality is it’s not going to change much,” said Ald. Rossanna Rodriguez Sanchez, 33rd Ward.
Although Lightfoot’s narrative is that gun violence and gangs are one and the same, data analyzed by The Trace, a nonprofit newsroom covering gun violence found that for nearly 34,000 shootings in the past decade, detectives labeled fewer than three in 10 of them gang-related. Police categorized the cases that way even in instances when they didn’t have enough information to make an arrest, according to the report.
“If in the course of the investigation of these shootings, CPD is looking in its own data for information about whether the people involved were gang-affiliated,” said Deborah Witzburg, former Chicago’s Inspector General for Public Safety, “it’s looking at the very same data that we identified as profoundly problematic and which the department acknowledged to be problematic.”
A follow-up analysis released last year of the 2019 audit by the then Inspector General Joseph Ferguson found that Chicago Police Department officials continue to use records that list approximately 135,000 Chicagoans as members of gangs and disproportionately target Black and Hispanic-Latinos. Approximately 95 percent of the more than 134-thousand Chicagoans listed as gang members by the CPD are Black or Latino.
While investigators looking into the shooting death of Melissa Ortega say they have strong leads, no one has been arrested.
Superintendent David Brown said at a news conference Monday that Chicago police will be increasing patrols in Little Village.
“We have to work together to make change,” Brown said. “Every effort we make today impacts the safety of our city tomorrow.”