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Two Arrested In Fatal Shooting Of 8-Year-Old Chicago Girl As Mother Grieves 'Most Valuable Thing I Had In My Life'

Chicago police have charged two people, including a 16-year-old, for the fatal shooting of Melissa Ortega. The mother of the 8-year-old girl said she forgives the alleged gunman, who she described as "a victim too."

By Constance Johnson
Melissa Ortega Gofundme Family

Two suspects – one a 16-year-old male -- have been charged in the fatal shooting of an 8-year-old girl struck by a stray bullet intended for an alleged gang member in Chicago.

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown announced the charges and details of the shooting at an emotional press conference on Wednesday.

Police have not released the name of the teenager, but he was charged as an adult, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The death of Melissa Ortega, who immigrated to Chicago from Mexico with her mother six months ago for a better life, once again highlighted the surge of gun violence in American cities and the innocent young victims.

Melissa was a third grader at Zapata Academy. She asked her mother for a hamburger just moments before the bullet struck her.

At the news conference, a local pastor read a statement by Melissa’s mom, Aracely Leaños, who said she has already forgiven the alleged gunman.

“To the aggressor, I forgive you. You were a victim, too. As a 16-year-old, the community failed you, just like it failed my precious baby. Although I do hope that in the many years you spend in prison you get time to reflect on your actions because you took away the most valuable thing I had in my life, my princess Melissa.”

Brown said that on Saturday afternoon the teen and Xavier Guzman, 27, who police said drove the getaway car, spotted three rival gang members on the corner of 26th Street and Komensky Avenue, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

Guzman drove into an alley, and the teen, dressed in all black, got out of the car and allegedly started shooting.

At the same point in time, Melissa was holding her mother’s hand as they crossed the street and was struck in the head. Her mother realized her daughter was shot because she collapsed as they ran away.

Police said an alleged gang member was hit twice in the back by gunfire and the teen jumped into the car. He and Guzman drove away, according to authorities. 

Brown also revealing for the first time that a stray bullet struck a car, but the man inside and his 9-year-old child were not injured.

Guzman was arrested Monday after police pulled over the Toyota Camry he was driving.

After combing through endless hours of police and private camera videos, investigators said they identified the Camry as the getaway car.  

Brown said Guzman was in possession of a gun that matched the one used in the shooting, the Sun Times reported.

The teen was arrested on Tuesday. He is charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder, according to WLS.

Guzman is charged with murder, attempted murder, and unauthorized use of a weapon.

Brown said that he made a visit to Melissa’s mother to tell her about the arrests, the station reported.

"Our city has been shaken and we can't make sense of this tragedy," Brown said.

The Chicago Tribune reported that the teen has a lengthy arrest record, including a carjacking charge.

The Sun Times reported that Guzman was arrested twice in May 2017 on low-level drug possession charges, both cases were dismissed.

“We should be filled with sadness but anger, as well,” Leaños said in her statement. “How is it possible that a little girl dies in broad daylight?”

The number of children and teens killed by gun fire has risen sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the New York Times.

The rate of gun deaths of children under 14 and younger jumped about 50% from the end of 2019 to the end of 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year, more than 1,500 children and teenagers under the age of 18 died in homicides and accidental shootings. That number was 1,380 in 2020, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

In Chicago, advocates and parents among others have been sounding the alarm about the dangerous and sometimes deadly impact of gun violence on the city’s youngest residents.

More than 400 children under the age of 17 were the victims of gun violence last year, a 50% increase since the start of the pandemic, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Earlier this week, Melissa’s family released a statement begging that her death is not in vain.

“Too often we hear news of shootings across Chicago, this continuous activity makes us habituated to these types of scenes. That is NOT something we should have to be accustomed to. Please don’t let her die in vain. No more innocent kids should be killed. Mayor [Lori]Lightfoot needs to make Chicago safe.”

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