13 people, including 3-year-old, shot at Chicago park

CHICAGO — Semehca Nunn tried hard to talk about her 3-year-old grandson, one of 13 people shot as neighbors played basketball in Cornell Square Park in the Back of the Yards Thursday night.

“They need to stop, they need to stop,” Nunn said, the last word coming out as almost a shriek as she closed her eyes and collapsed crying.

Witnesses told police a gray sedan pulled up to the park around 10:15 p.m. and two people opened fire in the 1800 block of West 51st Street. The victims ranged from 3 to 41 and included a 15-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl. Three of them, including the boy, were in serious to critical condition.

“I think it was like an AK,” said one neighbor. “Man, it was a lot of shots. Man, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. A little boy got hit in the face.”

Another neighbor said he was across the park from the basketball court when he heard as many as 20 shots. “I was across the park and I heard the shots and I came over and there was a lot of people down. It happened so fast. They were just playing ball, like they do every day.”

The first paramedics found more than a dozen people lying across the rust-colored court. One person lay near a bicycle that was on its side. A pair of white gym shoes was left near an out-of-bounds line.

Ambulances continued to arrive a half hour after the shootings as wounded people were brought out of the park on stretchers. About 60 police officers converged on the park and crime lab investigators combed the scene. By about 12:30 a.m. Friday, firefighters used hoses to clean blood from the basketball court.

The wounded boy, identified by family as Deonta’ Howard, was shot near the ear, the bullet exiting through his cheek, according to police and relatives. He was in critical condition at Mount Sinai Hospital, police said.

Nunn said her grandson, nicknamed Tay Man, is heavily sedated and will need plastic surgery. “He tried to get up and go, he’s not trying to be pinned down by nobody,” she said.

“He’s not your average 3-year-old,” Nunn said. “He’s very smart, he’s beyond his years. I don’t know if you’ve heard the saying, ‘He’s an old soul.’ That’s the best words to describe him. He’s an old soul.

“He’s friendly for the most part, very outgoing, outspoken,” Nunn said. “He likes the limelight, he’ll let you know who he is.”

One of the victims, a 37-year-old man shot in the leg, said he hanging out around the basketball court, as he and his friends normally do, when the shooting started.

“I turned around, I heard screaming,” he said. “I saw Tay Man.” He paused. “I just saw his face.” He struggled again for words. “Just tore off … They almost shot his whole face off.”

The man, who asked that his name not be used, smoked a cigarette as he leaned on a cane after being released from the hospital. Medical tape held down a piece of cotton gauze on his left arm, and he was missing the shoe from the leg where he had also been shot.

Asked if he was angry, the man replied, “I’m just grateful, grateful to be alive.”

Mayra Rodriguez, 23, who lives in the area with her 2-year-old daughter, heard rapid gunfire and then saw people on the ground. “Good thing most of them got hit in the legs,” she said.

“That kid was playing, he didn’t even know nothing, it was out of nowhere,” she said of the 3-year-old.

Rodriguez said there was a fatal shooting in the park about two years ago, and she tries to avoid it.

Rodriguez and her mother, Elvia Gonzalez, 45, said they had heard gunfire earlier in the evening, around 4:30 p.m. or 5 p.m. Rodriguez said her daughter was playing outside at that time and Gonzalez grabbed the girl and ran inside the house.

As the two talked Thursday night, the 2-year-old girl walked toward the street from the parkway and peered around the corner toward 51st Street to watch the last ambulance leave. She rested one hand on her mother’s leg as she chewed a finger.

Earlier, as her mother spoke, the girl twirled around a light pole. She wore tiny gold hoop earrings, purple pants and a red T-shirt that read, “My heart belongs to Grandpa.”

“She don’t even know … She’s just pointing at the light,” Rodriguez said.

Alejandro Cabada, 20, leaned out of his second-floor window near 50th and Wood streets about an hour after the shooting. He said he’s lived in the area for about seven years.

“Once I opened a beer can, I heard shots,” Cabada said. “I opened the fence in the back. They reversed up the alley and then toward Ashland, the car peeled out.”

“A brown Malibu with tints dipped toward Ashland Avenue … A brown Malibu with its lights off was peeling off,” Cabada said. “Some young kid said they shot his little brother.

“That was pretty much it, I just seen bodies on the floor, I seen three officers carrying the little boy. I didn’t heard no sounds.”

Relatives said Deonta’ Howard’s uncle, Jerome Wood, was fatally shot over the Labor Day weekend.

The Rev. Corey Brooks, who presided over Wood’s funeral, urged the shooter or shooters to surrender or face justice on the streets.

There are people who know exactly who the shooter is,” he said, standing next to Nunn. “And I’m sure he will not be safe shooting 13 people.”

Police listed the victims as:

— A 3-year-old boy, shot in the ear, in critical condition at Mount Sinai

— A 17-year-old girl, shot in the foot, condition stabilized at Holy Cross Hospital

— A 15-year-old boy shot in the arm, stabilized at Holy Cross

— A man, 27, shot in the leg and wrist, serious condition at Mount Sinai

— A man, 24, shot twice in the stomach, serious condition at Mount Sinai

— A man, 21, shot in the leg, serious condition at Mount Sinai

— A man, 41, shot in the buttocks, serious condition at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital

— A woman, 33, shot in the shoulder, condition stabilized at Northwestern Memorial Hospital

— A man, 31, shot in the buttocks, condition stabilized at Northwestern

— A woman, 23, shot in the foot, condition stabilized at St. Anthony Hospital

— A man, 37, shot in the leg, in good condition at Stroger

— A man, 25, shot in the knee, in good condition at Northwestern

— And a man, 33, who drove himself to Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park with a gunshot wound to the leg and who was treated and released.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was headed back to Chicago from Washington, D.C., where he was scheduled to meet today with Obama administration Cabinet secretaries on city issues, mayoral spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said. Emanuel flew to D.C. last night ahead of swing that also was supposed to include a political fundraiser for Democratic New Jersey U.S. Senate candidate Cory Booker.

Emanuel also released a statement this morning about the Back of the Yards shooting. “Senseless and brazen acts of violence have no place in Chicago and betray all that we stand for. The perpetrators of this crime will be brought to justice and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. I encourage everyone in the community to step forward with any information and everyone in Chicago to continue their individual efforts to build stronger communities where violence has no place,” the statement reads.

Chicago Tribune reporter Liam Ford contributed to this report.