Man, teen charged with murder in death of Chicago girl, 8

Posted at 8:25 AM, January 27, 2022 and last updated 7:53 PM, July 13, 2023

By DON BABWIN Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) — A teenage boy and man have been charged with first-degree murder in last weekend’s death of an 8-year-old Chicago girl who was shot in the head as she walked hand in hand with her mother by a gunman targeting someone else on the city’s Southwest Side.

Melissa Ortega of Chicago was walking with her mother in the city’s Little Village neighborhood on Saturday afternoon when someone climbed from a car and opened fire at a 29-year-old alleged gang member who was leaving a store, Police Superintendent David Brown said at a news conference. The girl was pronounced dead Saturday at a hospital.

The man police believe was the intended target was

In this Jan. 23 photo provided by the Chicago Police Department, residents and community members gather to remember Melissa Ortega. The 8-year-old girl was shot in the head as she walked hand in hand with her mother by a gunman targeting someone else on the city’s Southwest Side. (Facebook/Chicago Police Dept.)

shot in the back and was hospitalized.

Brown said the 16-year-old boy, whose name was not immediately released, was the shooter, and 27-year-old Xavier Guzman was the driver of the car. Both were arrested on charges of first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder, with the teen also charged with aggravated discharge of a firearm.

Brown said the two were arrested after detectives analyzed surveillance video and license plate reader technology that allowed to track down the vehicle. He said the surveillance video showed the car pull into an alley, where the gunman got out, opened fire and jumped back in and fled the scene.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said the boy was charged as an adult because of the serious nature of the crime and that both suspects would appear in court Thursday. She said prosecutors would not detail the shooting during the hearing, and her office said the teen’s name will be released at the hearing.

Melissa , a student at Emiliano Zapata Academy, an elementary school in the city’s heavily-Mexican neighborhood, according to the Chicago Teachers Union, had just asked her mother to promise to buy her a hamburger after they went to the bank when, according to a statement the mother asked a family representative read to the media, “My daughter stopped holding my hand and without explanation I found her on the floor with a puddle of blood and a bullet to her head.”

The mother, Araceli Leanos, told of emigrating to Chicago from Mexico six months ago.

“We came in search of the American dream (that) was so famously here, but instead I get to live a nightmare the rest of my life.”

And less than a week after her daughter’s death, the mother said to the gunman, the “aggressor,” as she called him, “I forgive you. You were a victim, too… the community failed you just as it failed my precious baby.”

The shooting happened amid a spike in homicides in Chicago. Last year was the city’s deadliest in a quarter century, with roughly 800 homicides and at the press briefing, Mayor Lori Lightfoot spoke of how the violence has hit communities like Little Village particularly hard.

“I’ve spoken to too many mothers in that community who have told me they’re afraid, afraid to step outside of their homes, afraid for their lives, afraid the gangs have taken over.”