URBANA-CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Five people were taken into custody over the last two weeks during the investigation into a gunfire exchange near Booker T. Washington STEAM Academy in Champaign, police announced.
Four of the arrestees are between the ages of 15 and 18 and are believed to have taken part in the shooting. The fifth, an 11-year-old boy, is not believed to have taken part, but charges are pending after officers found guns and bullets in his bookbag.
The investigation into the shooting revealed that near dismissal time at Booker T. Washington on Sept. 14, a group of four people encountered a separate pair of people at Wright Street and Eads Street. Mike Cervantes, an Urbana Police Lieutenant, said words were exchanged before the two groups started shooting at each other. At least 10 shots were fired by four shooters.
Cervantes added said gun violence is a situation that’s spiraling out of control.
“It’s become all too frequent that juveniles and youth in our community had access to firearms,” Cervantes said. “We believe there’s a number of ways that they’re getting them. Most of us [officers] are parents ourselves. We’re not just law enforcement, we’re humans beings. And we don’t want to see a child get hurt, so it’s very troubling.
Champaign community activist Tony Odom said it’s worrisome to see kids with dangerous weapons, and it could be a cry for help.
“We got to protect each other,” Odom said. “This is not heaven; we’re going to always have problems. But I think that if, as a community, if we come together and try to create some activities for these kids, show some love we’ll be able to change some lives.”
Urbana Police Chief Larry Boone also weighed in on the situation, saying in a press release:
I am no stranger to gun violence having come from Norfolk, VA, where young black men were disproportionately involved in gun crimes. Champaign-Urbana is similar in that aspect as the data presented to me shows. While I am proud of the work of the officers involved in this case, I believe there is more work to be done within the community and within law enforcement, specifically when it comes to investigating where these guns are coming from and how they are ending up in the hands of our youth.
Urbana and Champaign Police jointly investigated the case and within a day, officials said, detectives were able to identify multiple suspects. Over the course of two weeks, police arrested the following people:
- A 15-year-old suspect was arrested on Sept. 15 for possessing a gun during the shooting outside Booker T. Washington. He’s been charged with unlawful use of a weapon.
- Two suspects were arrested on Sept. 24 and were charged with aggravated discharge of a firearm: a 16-year-old and 18-year-old Tyzerion Wesley. The 16-year-old also had an outstanding arrest warrant for gun charges in a separate Champaign case.
- Another 15-year-old suspect was arrested on Sept. 27. He had an outstanding arrest warrant in Champaign for breaking into a vehicle.
As he is an adult, Wesley was booked into the Champaign County Jail while the others, as they are minors, were taken to the Champaign County Youth Detention Center.
In addition to the four suspected shooters, police briefly detained an 11-year-old boy when they arrested the first suspect on Sept. 15. Officials said the boy ran out the home the suspect was at with a bookbag; when he was stopped, police found the following items in the bag:
- Two stolen Glock handguns, both of which were fully loaded and had bullets in their chambers.
- A drum pistol magazine, capable of holding 50 rounds
- An additional handgun magazine
- Almost 400 rounds
A subsequent interview with the 11-year-old revealed that he had been instructed to take the backpack and run when police arrived. He was released to a guardian and the Champaign County State’s Attorney’s Office will review the case to decide on charges.
Urbana and Champaign Police are still investigating the shooting outside Booker T. Washington. Anyone who has additional video footage or information of said shooting are asked to contact the Urbana Police Department at 217-384-2320. Anyone who wants to remain anonymous, even to law enforcement, can contact Champaign County Crime Stoppers at 217-373-8477.