COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTS — A Chicago teen accused of bringing a gun to Urban Prep Charter Academy feared he would be killed by gang members who harassed him for years, his mother said Wednesday through tears.
Darnell Hamilton, 17, faces gun charges after police found a 9mm semiautomatic handgun in his school locker Tuesday morning, prosecutors said.
While prosecutors said the gun was loaded with several live rounds, school officials later released a statement saying the gun was not loaded.
Hamilton told police that he was being "hassled by the gangs and he bought the gun for protection," Assistant State's Attorney Erin Antonietti said Wednesday when Hamilton appeared in a white button-down shirt and khaki pants before a Cook County judge.
"It's pretty much about recruitment," said Hamilton's mother, LaDonna Petty, who had her arm wrapped around her son's girlfriend. "My son is an awesome kid; he has a 4.0 grade point average.
"What are you supposed to do when you live in the city and your child is afraid?" she said as she fought back tears and uttered short prayers to Jesus Christ.
Petty said she moved to Des Plaines several years ago to shield Hamilton from the violence in Chicago but was forced to return to the city when she lost a job.
They live in Logan Square, and Hamilton takes public transportation to school on the Near West Side, she said. It has been during his commute when her son typically runs into problems.
Police were called to Urban Prep, 1326 W. 14th Place, by school officials, who found the gun in a backpack inside Hamilton's locker, prosecutors said. He allegedly got the gun Friday.
The West Campus is part of Urban Prep Academies, which has gained prominence in Chicago for getting all of its seniors accepted into college each year.
Evan Lewis, chief operating officer for Urban Prep Academies, said the area around the school has its "challenges."
"The surrounding communities around our West Side campus has its issues and certainly our students may face challenges going to and from school," Evans said. "But those challenges are no different than other students attending urban schools. We provide security at all our campuses and one thing I can tell you is we had no issues with Mr. Hamilton at the school."
Petty said young people have to act tough or risk becoming the target of the gangs' aggression.
"You've got to put up this image that you're not afraid," she said.
Cook County Judge Donald Panarese Jr. set the teen's bond at $75,000 on charges of unlawful use of a weapon and possession of a gun on school grounds.
Hamilton gave his girlfriend and mother a reassuring nod before he was taken by Cook County Sheriffs deputies back to the lockup.
In spite of the reality facing youth on Chicago streets, Petty said her son should never have armed himself, and he knows it.
"He said, 'Mom, I made a mistake,' " Petty said. "We all fall short in life. I am proud of him."