Updated 09/23/13 – 4:30 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – Police Supt. Garry McCarthy on Monday denied news reports police had arrested two men in connection with a gang-related mass shooting in the Back of the Yards neighborhood last week, but insisted he’s confident the case would be closed “very quickly.”
The Chicago Tribune reported Monday morning that police had arrested two people in connection with the Thursday night shooting of 13 people at Cornell Square Park, but McCarthy said that is not the case.
Sources told CBS 2 that police were questioning two people and that both were members of the same gang. Nobody has been charged, but sources expect that charges could come soon.
Those sources said they believe the two people being questioned were behind the attack on a rival gang in the park Thursday night.
McCarthy said police have been questioning several people since Friday, but he denied any arrests have been made.
“When we’re ready to announce that we have somebody in custody, we’ll do that. We can jeopardize the entire investigation by prematurely putting out information,” he said after a police recruit graduation on Monday. “It’s not the case, we’re not going to comment on it. The investigation is ongoing, and proceeding.”
“There’s no doubt in my mind, like I said on Friday, that we’re going to close this case very quickly, and we’re getting closer and closer to making that happen,” he added.
Around 10:15 p.m. Thursday, 13 people – including a 3-year-old boy – were wounded when one or more gunmen opened fire with an assault-style rifle at a crowded basketball court at Cornell Square Park, at 51st and Wood streets.
Police have said the shooting appears to be gang-related, but have not said who the intended target was; although McCarthy has said gang members were among the wounded.
McCarthy said Friday that the assailants fired at least 16 rounds from a 7.62mm assault-style rifle.
“It’s a miracle in this instance that there have been no fatalities, based on the lethality of the weapon used at this scene,” McCarthy said. “Illegal guns … illegal guns … illegal guns drive violence; and military-type weapons like the one we believe to have been used in this shooting belong on a battlefield, not on a street, or on a corner, or in a park in the Back of the Yards.”
All of the victims were expected to survive, including 3-year-old Deonta Howard Jr., who was shot in the ear. The bullet exited his cheek, and he will need reconstructive cosmetic surgery to his face.
Deonta has had two surgeries so far and is said to be awake, talking and recovering well.
Rev. Corey Brooks, the pastor at Deonta’s family church, said Deonta was allowed to stay up late to enjoy one of the last warm nights of summer and watch the neighborhood basketball game with his mother Thursday night, something he loves doing.
“Typically the kids are at home with the grandmother at 7:30, that’s their routine,” Brooks said of the 3-year-old. “But that one particular night they stayed up later than normal because it was a nice day and there was a lot of people in the park and everybody was throwing basketballs.”
Cornell Square Park is better lit than most parks in the area and so it draws lots of people on warm nights. It’s also in an area that Chicago’s top police official referred to as a “high gang-conflict zone.”
But the park is between two other areas that police have flooded with officers as part of stepped-up patrols — demonstrating the difficulty of trying to contain all of the city’s gang hot spots.
Those living near the park said, in just the past two years, violence has escalated in Back of the Yards. Just two days before the shooting at Cornell Square Park, a house was shot up. Police responded to a call of shots fired and found numerous shell casings.
Several residents say many of the now-vacant foreclosed homes in the community appear to be adding to the crime increase. They say the homes are a haven for criminal activity.
Thursday’s shooting thrust Chicago back in the national spotlight for its problems with gun violence, and over the weekend, Gov. Pat Quinn suggested he would be willing to offer state help when asked if he’d talked about sending in Illinois State Police or the Illinois National Guard to assist Chicago police.
“It has to be done in a coordinated fashion with the local law enforcement, with their full cooperation,” Quinn told reporters Saturday.
McCarthy said using the National Guard to assist local police was not an option he’d support.
“The National Guard is not a policing force. They’re a military force,” he said.
The superintendent reiterated that the city has seen a significant reduction in murders and violent crime from last year, when Chicago suffered a spike in gun crimes. Through Sept. 8, Chicago had registered 297 homicides this year. That was 21 percent fewer than the 377 recorded over the same period last year.
“Let’s stop the hysteria. Let’s talk about practical steps and move forward,” McCarthy said. “The contribution that Springfield can make to the city of Chicago is what the mayor talked about today, which is a three-year mandatory minimum for (illegal) gun possession.”
McCarthy and Emanuel have previously urged state lawmakers to enact legislation to impose a three-year mandatory minimum for possession of an illegal firearm. The current minimum sentence in Illinois is one year, with many offenders serving as little as 64 days.
“We’ve got more than 130 examples so far this year – more than 130 examples – of individuals who would have been incarcerated, if that law was in effect, rather than being a shooter, or a victim of gun violence,” McCarthy said. “Without adequate penalties for gun violence, we’re churning them out, and they’re doing it again. They’re not learning not to do it. They’re learning that there’s no sanction, therefore they continue it.”
The superintendent claimed a mandatory three-year minimum sentence for illegal gun possession in New York has helped New York City accomplish its recent declines in murders and other gun crimes.
“If people don’t go to jail for possession of a firearm, they don’t learn not to carry a firearm, and carrying a firearm is the gateway crime to committing a murder,” he said. “When the possession of untaxed cigarettes is the same class felony as possession of a loaded firearm in the state of Illinois, I mean what’s the priority of our criminal justice system?”
He also said that a person arrested for carrying a bag with a metallic lining to avoid setting of the anti-theft sensors in department stores carries the same minimum penalty as illegal gun possession in Illinois.
“We’ve got to get that right if we’re going to expect to see long-term results from what’s happening here,” McCarthy said.