Chicago police investigate a shooting of two men outside St. Columbanus Church in Chicago on Nov. 26.
Photo credit: Eric Clark/Chicago Tribune/MCT
Shots rang out, causing panic and chaos as hundreds of mourners were leaving a Catholic church on the South Side following funeral services Monday for a slain reputed gang member.
As people scattered for exits, a woman knocked Deborah Echols-Moore, 59, to the floor and fell atop her. Her shoes were thrown off her feet. When she stood back up, she fled barefoot out a door.
"When I came outside, you still can hear shooting. Boom! Boom! Boom! I still ran...people was running behind me," the longtime CTA employee said not long after the 12:30 p.m. shooting. "You didn't know which way to go or what to do. All I knew to do was run for my life."
Chicago police said one man was killed, another critically injured in the bloodshed at St. Columbanus Church. Police identified both as Gangster Disciples members and convicted felons, illustrating once again the high risks of gang membership in a year in which rising homicides have brought Chicago unwanted national attention.
GDs alone make up more than a quarter of the city's approximately 470 homicide victims. About 60 percent of this year's homicide victims were gang members, according to department statistics.
Police were still investigating who was responsible for the shooting, but investigators said the neighborhood has long been rife with conflict between GDs and rival Black Disciples.
Illustrating the sudden, often unpredictable nature of the violence, police Superintendent Garry McCarthy just a couple of hours earlier was touting the department's crime-fighting strategies in tamping down the city's rate of violence since earlier in the year when homicides soared. Through Sunday, homicides have risen more than 19 percent over the same period a year earlier, department records show.
There were five fewer homicides during the first 25 days of November compared to the same period in 2011, according to department statistics. But shootings during the first 25 days of this month have risen sharply by 45 percent.
From November 1 through Sunday there were 161 shootings compared to 111 during the same period in 2011, department statistics show.
Rev. Corey Brooks, a well-known South Side pastor who officiated at Monday's services for James Holman, 32, said a church would have been off-limits for gangbangers at one time.
"Now we are living at a day and time where these younger criminals have no regard for life or for street rules," he said.
Holman, identified by police as a gang member, was gunned down last week at an apartment building in the Washington Park neighborhood.
The shooting took place just outside St. Columbanus, the same church where gangster Al Capone's wife and mother attended mass daily more than half a century ago.
A Cook County Medical Examiner's spokesman identified one of the two victims as Sherman Miller, 21, and said he was pronounced dead at Stroger Hospital. A 26-year-old man was shot in the back and listed as in "extremely critical condition," a hospital spokesman said.
Miller, who is also identified in court records as William Miller, was on parole for being in possession of a stolen vehicle and escaping from police custody, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections Web site.
The surviving victim has a 2004 felony weapons conviction in his criminal background, court records show.
Police said two guns were recovered, one down the block from the church at East 71st Street and South Prairie Avenue and another on one of the victims.
About a dozen bullet casings littered the steps outside the church where yellow evidence markers were placed. Beat cops blocked off traffic with their squad cars and sealed off the church's entrance with yellow and red tape. As evidence technicians took photos of the crime scene, detectives went door-to-door to nearby homes scouring for witnesses.
April Smith, 30, said she looked out a second-floor window of her home when she heard her car alarm sound off and noticed a man wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans walking toward the church entrance on 71st Street. She then heard about a dozen gunshots and saw two passersby crouch for protection.
Moments later, the same man in the sweatshirt ran back onto Prairie and fled south, said Smith. Mourners then frantically exited the church.
"To know that something like that happened right across the street...it's terrible," Smith, who has lived at her home for seven years, said in disbelief. "It's broad daylight."
Brooks, who is pastor of New Beginnings Church of Chicago in the Woodlawn neighborhood and is considering a run for former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s vacant congressional seat, said about 500 people attended the funeral, including about 50 children. The church was so crowded that people were standing in the back.
Brooks had finished the eulogy and Holman's family and close friends had gone out the front door of the church when shots rang out.
"That's when all the gunfire broke out and it was just crazy," Brooks said. "People were hollering and screaming and kids running everywhere."
Charles Childs, a co-owner of the A.A. Rayner and Sons Funeral Home across the street from the church, held an uneventful visitation for Holman on Sunday. On Monday he said he saw the gunman firing his weapon as he came down the front steps outside the church.
"No place is safe," he said. "It's just despicable."
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