CHICAGO (CBS) — A 33-year-old man has been ordered held without bail, after police and prosecutors say he acted as the getaway driver in the July 4th shooting death of 7-year-old Natalia Wallace, who was gunned down while playing in her grandmother’s front yard in the South Austin neighborhood.
Reginald Merrill was arrested around 9:15 p.m. Saturday, little more than two hours after Natalia was shot in the head on the 100 block of North Latrobe Avenue. He is charged with one count of first-degree murder and one count of aggravated battery. Police said Merrill was driving a white car matching the description of the vehicle involved in the shooting, and during Merrill’s bond hearing on Tuesday, prosecutors said he admitted owning the car and being the sole driver.
Cook County prosecutors said Merrill was behind the wheel of the car when it pulled up on the 100 block of North Latrobe shortly after 7 p.m. Saturday, when three passengers got out of the car and started shooting. The shooters then got back in the car and Merrill drove off, prosecutors said.
Natalia was playing in her grandmother’s front yard when she was shot in the head. A Chicago Police officer gave Natalia CPR, but she did not survive. She was pronounced dead at Stroger Hospital. At the time she was killed, Natalia, who had had just finished the first grade at Crown Community Academy of Fine Arts Center, was visiting her grandmother for a 4th of July party.
A 32-year-old man was also wounded in the shooting, police said. He transported himself to Mount Sinai Hospital in fair condition with a gunshot wound to the ankle and a graze wound to the leg.
The shooting was apparent retaliation for a June 29 shooting that killed one of the shooter’s brothers, according to prosecutors. Merrill and the other suspects are purported gang members who believed the gunman from the earlier shooting lived on the same block of Latrobe as Natalia’s grandmother.
On Sunday, CBS 2’s Marissa Parra spoke with Natalia’s family, who were with her in her final moments.
“Kids outside playing, they shouldn’t have to worry about guns and people shooting,” said Natalia’s father, Nathan Wallace.
Shelley Fulton, who is Natalia’s great-great aunt and was like a third parent to her, rubbed her back in her final moments.
“She said, ‘Your baby’s shot!’ and I jumped the flight of stairs to come downstairs, and I found my baby laying here, and I’ll never be the same,” Fulton said. “It’s got to stop, this killing. These are innocent kids. She was only 7 years old.”
“She’d smile and always tell me, ‘I love you,’” Fulton said.
Police and prosecutors have said detectives were able to use surveillance video and other technology to track the car. Prosecutors said, while Merrill’s face was not clearly visible in the videos, the driver caught on video matched his build and was wearing the same white shirt as Merrill was wearing when he was arrested on the 1000 block of North Pine Avenue, about two hours after the shooting.
Chicago Police Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan has said investigators are searching for the others involved in Natalia’s death.