BACK OF THE YARDS — A late-night gang ambush on a crowded Back of the Yards basketball court Thursday night left a 3-year-old boy shot in the face, another 12 people wounded and investigators interviewing people who could be linked to the assault-rifle carnage, sources said.
The mass shooting at Cornell Square Park forced Mayor Rahm Emanuel to cancel a meeting in Washington, D.C., and fly back to Chicago, where he quickly went to the hospital to check on 3-year-old Deonta' Howard.
The Rev. Corey Brooks, who was with Deonta's family, said the boy was going into surgery at 2:30 p.m. Friday.
"He was shot in the back of his ear, right below the skull, and it exited out his jaw," Brooks said. "And as a result of that there was a little lower skull damage. Also, a lot of scar, a lot of tissue, a lot of cosmetic surgery that's going to have to take place.
"He's doing better. He's heavily sedated," Brooks said.
The mass shooting also turned the national spotlight back on Chicago violence, an issue the city has been aggressively battling with new policing strategies and the seizure of illegal guns.
President Barack Obama was "dismayed" to hear about the shooting, according to a statement from the White House issued Friday.
"The President was dismayed to learn of yet another deplorable act of gun violence, this time in his hometown of Chicago," said Joanna Rosholm, White House spokeswoman. "He sends his thoughts and prayers to the several victims who were shot last night and hopes for their speedy recovery. The President remains committed to pushing Congress to pass commonsense measures and is doing everything in his executive power to reduce gun violence."
Two federal agencies also have joined the investigation of what happened at 10:15 p.m. at the park in the 1800 block of West 51st Street. The park sits between two police saturation "impact zones" that Chicago Police have flooded with extra cops this summer.
Sources said the "Brick Squad" gang faction, a South Side band of the Vice Lords, P Stones and Gangster Disciples, was involved in the shooting.
The spray of bullets sent basketball players and onlookers scrambling. Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy called it a miracle that everyone survived.
Investigators recovered at least 16 shell casings from 7.62 mm rounds, which typically are used in an AK-47.
Emanuel canceled his meeting in Washington and returned home to meet with McCarthy Friday afternoon. At a news conference later Friday, McCarthy said the mayor was demanding answers and a speedy arrest in the shooting.
McCarthy said he was "confident there will be a quick conclusion. That's a method to keep retaliation from happening" in what he referred to as a "high gang-conflict zone."
He said police have received a "ton of cooperation" from witnesses.
The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are joining Chicago Police in the investigation, sources said.
"All of the injuries are non-life-threatening," McCarthy said. "It's a miracle in this instance that there were no fatalities."
McCarthy said the victims could have been wounded by as many as three shooters, and the bullets came from a military-style rifle with a high-capacity clip — the kind of gun he's called for banning in weekly news conferences highlighting the city's efforts to get illegal guns off the streets.
A "military-grade weapon in the streets of Chicago is simply unacceptable," McCarthy added.
McCarthy said Thursday night's shooting was another setback in the city's struggle to rein in violence.
"Every time somebody is shot in the city, it's a setback," he said.
Bullets started flying about 45 minutes before the park closed. Neighbors said the park was crowded because of an evening basketball tournament that stretched into the night.
At least 16 rounds were fired and "a number of the victims are gang members," McCarthy said.
Investigators are conducting interviews and checking nearby surveillance cameras for clues.
"We don't have anybody that I would call 'in custody,' " the top cop said, but he said there was a high-degree of cooperation in the community and among law enforcement agencies.
The shooting had already drawn national attention by Friday morning.
Brooks, pastor of New Beginning Church in Woodlawn, also was at the hospital with the wounded toddler Thursday night. Deonta's family attends New Beginnings Church. When Deonta's uncle, Jerome Wood, was shot to death Sept. 2, Brooks presided over his funeral.
He said the national attention is appropriate.
"It's everyone's problem, and that's one of the things I wish everyone would understand. When something like this happens in Colorado, America rises to the occasion. When it happens in Connecticut, they rise ... to the occasion," Brooks said.
"When it happens in D.C., they rise to the occasion. And I'm hoping and praying that America will see that these children who are being shot and killed and the children who are shooting — these are American children. And so, because this is an American issue, then we all have to do something about it. We have to gang up on the problem and stop ganging up on each other."
The 13 people shot in Back of the Yards were among at least 22 shot overnight, including two who were killed.
In a statement issued Friday morning, Emanuel called the Back of the Yards shooting "senseless and brazen."
"The perpetrators of this crime will be brought to justice and prosecuted to the full extent of the law," Emanuel said. "I encourage everyone in the community to step forward with any information, and everyone in Chicago to continue their individual efforts to build stronger communities where violence has no place."
Emanuel returned to the city after canceling scheduled meetings with Cabinet officials in Washington and an appearance at a rally for Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker Friday afternoon in Jersey City.
The mayor showed up at the hospital Friday afternoon.
Others injured Thursday night, including someone Brooks said was Deonta's grandmother's fiance, include:
• A 15-year-old boy, shot in his arm.
• A 17-year-old girl, shot in her foot.
• A 23-year-old woman, shot in her foot.
• A 31-year-old man, shot in his buttocks.
• A 27-year-old man, shot in his wrist, leg and hip.
• A 41-year-old man, shot in his buttocks.
• A 21-year-old man, shot in his leg.
• A 24-year-old man, shot in his abdomen.
• A 37-year-old man, shot in his leg.
• A 25-year-old man, shot in his knee.
• A 33-year-old man, shot in his thigh.
• A 33-year-old woman, shot in her upper back and shoulder.