Bystanders caught in the crossfire continue to recover

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Champaign County Courthouse security officers arrested 22-year-old Aaron Young Wednesday in connection to a drive-by shooting on I-74 in North Champaign in late March.

Young was in court for an unrelated case when he was taken into custody on a warrant for attempted murder, according to Champaign County Sheriff Dustin Heuerman.

The 22-year-old also faces two counts of aggravated battery with a firearm.

Two people were taken to the hospital after the 2 a.m. interstate shooting between the Prospect Avenue and Neil Street exits. State police said the victims’ car crashed into the center median after being hit by gunfire that came from another car.

Young’s arrest marks the second to be made in a string of shootings within a couple mile stretch in north Champaign. Target 3 reporters found out a pair of parallel roads — N Market Street and Prospect Avenue — has become an apparent hotspot for drive-by shootings, and some of the victims were simply caught in the crossfire.

Each dot represents a shooting off of either N Market St or Prospect Ave in the last seven months.

9-year-old Damien Jones is still recovering six months after he became an unintended target of the city’s growing plight with gun violence.

It’s not like you heal and it goes back to normal. You heal physically. It’s the mental and emotional part that’s long-term.

Victoria Valadez, mother of 9-year-old victim of gun violence

The elementary school student’s head was grazed after a bullet went through the back window of his family’s car. His mother, Victoria Valadez said she held her bleeding child in her lap as they drove to the hospital. Her 8-year-old daughter, Peyton, was also in tow.

“He didn’t know how bad it was. He just knew his head was bleeding, so he’s still, you know, really on edge about it,” Valadez said.

Champaign police believe about 20 shots were fired during the mid-October shootout. Valadez says she and her family were caught in the middle on their way home from school. Damien has healed physically, but his mother says there’s a lot of healing left to happen mentally and emotionally.

“He’s doing, like, a lot of therapy and you know he’s struggling in school,” she said. “It’s not like you heal and it goes back to normal. You heal physically. It’s the mental and emotional part that’s long-term.”

It’s been half a year since either of Valadez’s kids have slept soundly through the night. The mother of two ended up quitting her night job to care for them.

“I tried to go back to working a couple of days a week and stuff, and he just didn’t want to be alone and my daughter didn’t want to be alone because, you know, she was there too. And they would just cry, you know, and ask me not to leave, and eventually, the guilt just got to me,” she explained.

Since October, six more people have been shot within the same couple-mile stretch. The majority of the incidents have been drive-bys, and three of those drive-by shootings happened on N Market St near where Damien was grazed.

“My baby was 9-years-old. That’s all I can think about. I couldn’t imagine dealing with mortality at 9 years old. I really couldn’t,” Valadez said.

“You don’t think you’re going to die at 9 years old, and my baby does.”

The road behind the mall is still a staple in the Valadez family routine. It became the site of another shooting Sunday.

“At this point, Champaign is turning into a city of crime so I’m not surprised,” Valadez reacted.

No arrests have been made in the October shooting or the most recent on Sunday. Aaron Young’s arrest was the second made following the string of six shootings in that area in the last seven months.

22-year-old Diamond Mitchell faces charges for the February Market Place Mall parking lot shooting.

Mitchell shot a 19-year-old in the leg after a fight over a pair of shoes, according to Champaign Police Lieutenant Ben Newell. In a February court hearing, Mitchell said she was acting out of self-defense when she fired her gun. The teenager allegedly punched Mitchell in the face before the gun was fired, according to Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz.

Rietz said there is a possibility for further charges following that February hearing, including against the 19-year-old victim who allegedly punched Mitchell. No additional charges have been filed as of this report, according to Lt. Newell. The State’s Attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Newell said police are seeing more and more shootings that “go beyond drive-bys,” including multiple shooters firing out of multiple vehicles. He said shootings are most often occurring on the city’s main thoroughfares, like Prospect Avenue and N Market Street, as well as Neil Street. The shootings are targeted more often than not, Newell added.