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Safe Passage Won't Stop Shootings, Residents Near Melody Elementary Say

By Josh McGhee | August 26, 2013 2:03pm
 Parents walked their kids to school a block from where a 14-year-old boy was shot dead Sunday.
Melody Students Back to School
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WEST GARFIELD PARK — Less than 24 hours after a 14-year-old boy was shot dead near his West Garfield Park home, parents and students walked the Safe Passage route to Melody Elementary, just blocks from the scene of the murder.

Lavander Hearnes was shot dead in a vacant lot in the 4000 block of West Wilcox Street, about a block away from his home, at 12:20 a.m. Sunday, police said.

Though the former Delano Elementary School building remains open, the school is now called Melody Elementary. The former Melody building at 412 S. Keeler Ave. was shuttered, and students now must make the trek to 3832 W. Wilcox St.

Before Chicago Public Schools decided to close Delano and move Melody, many expressed concerns about kids making the trek through gang territory.

"There were drug dealers standing along the route we walked," said U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Chicago) while taking the walk in April. "And if they were there now, they'll be there when the children are walking to school."

On Monday morning, there were no drug dealers to be found, but there were plenty of police officers. Residents, however, weren't convinced the heavy police presence would continue through the school year.

"You have all the policeman patrolling the area now, but where were they when [Lavander] got shot? There's more policemen out than there's ever been," said Ava Temple, 54.

Temple, who served on the Local School Council at Delano, said she expects there to be retaliation for the teen's death.

"Someone's going to get hurt," she said.

Erica Baker, 34, walked her son along the Safe Passage route to Melody Monday morning, with a heavy heart. Her 13-year-old son was Lavander's good friend.

"Words can't even describe [how I'm feeling] right now," she said. "That's like my family. I'm heartbroken. He was my baby."

Baker said her children were up until 2 or 3 a.m. crying about Lavander's death, and she expects the gunfire to continue. She said neighborhood kids were already plotting retaliation.

"Today was supposed to be [Lavander's] first day of high school," she said of the slain teen.

While some parents at Melody were nervous, students were eager to start the school year.

"I'm excited because I love to read and do all that stuff," said eighth grader Daysha Henderson, who attended Delano last year. "I want to learn a lot about science and do science experiments."

Tanaka Bell, 40, nervously walked her son Demetrius Hopkins, 9, to the school.

"'I got it from here ma, you don't have to hold my hand,'" Bell said the fourth grader told her. "I think I was more scared than he was, but since he was okay I was okay."

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said Monday that things went smoothly on the first commute to school, but pointed out that "if this were a football game, it's the first quarter."

Baker said some of the young shooters in the neighborhood don't care about firing a gun in front of police, and that many young people in the area have been victims of gun violence.

"Levander got killed," she said, before pointing to a man standing near the school. "His daughter got shot. Now they have all these police here."