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Neighbors Rally in Irving Park, Albany Park: Recent Crime 'Not Acceptable'

By Patty Wetli | October 6, 2016 9:25am
 Irving Park Safety Walk
Irving Park Safety Walk
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IRVING PARK — On Tuesday afternoon, shots fired near Bateman Elementary had children and parents dropping to the ground in fear. On Wednesday night, more than 100 members of the surrounding Irving Park and Albany Park communities gathered on the school's playground to send a message they would not be intimidated by violence.

"There's been a lot of things going on ... a lot of gunshots fired. This is just not acceptable," said Misha Mann, a member of The Residents of Irving Park civic organization.

"If we, as a group, don't do something, nothing will change," she said.

Community groups had already planned a "safety walk" for Wednesday — in response to a fatal shooting and an attack on a jogger — when Tuesday's shots fired near Bateman added to the event's urgency.

"One shooting in broad daylight near a school is enough," said Ald. Deb Mell (33rd). "Let's not forget we are a close tight-knit community."

Neighbors and the district's police officers packed Bateman Elementary's playground in a show of force against violence. [Facebook/The Residents of Irving Park]

Sarina Ortiz, who helped organize Wednesday's walk, was supervising Bateman Elementary's garden club on Tuesday when shots rang out near the school shortly after 4 p.m. The first few pops sounded like fireworks, she said, but then those were followed by a volley of six to nine more.

"I had my 4-year-old and 6-year-old. The playground was full of kids," Ortiz said.

"I yelled for kids to drop to the ground" and dialed 911, she said. "Police were here within five minutes."

No one was injured in the shooting — "There was no screaming, no altercation," Ortiz said — but the incident left her shaken.

"It was a little too close to home," said Ortiz.

Police have identified a "problem building" on nearby Whipple, which Mell has added to her list of hot spots in the ward. Her office has followed a number of similarly troubled buildings through the court system — and provides status updates in Mell's weekly newsletter.

The process is laborious, Mell said, but she's slowly seeing results.

"You have to make landlords accountable for who they're renting to," she said.

Irma Aragon (front, right) took part in Wednesday's walk, which passed the site where her son was murdered in September. [DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]

Wednesday's walk stepped off from Bateman just as darkness fell on an unseasonably warm October night.

Police cars, with blue lights blazing, shadowed the route, which purposefully wound its way past sites of recent violence, including the 4400 block of North Albany Avenue, where Israel Aragon, 21, was found shot to death on Sept. 7.

Aragon's mother, Irma, and his sister, Dalia, were among those taking part in the walk.

"We would not have this happen to another family," Irma said.

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As painful as it was to pass the scene of Israel's murder, Dalia, 25, said, "We want to support the community, we want to make the community safe again.

"Unfortunately this had to happen but it brought the community together," she said.

The Aragon family said they have been comforted in the past weeks by neighbors' kind words.

Her brother had attended Waters Elementary and St. Ben's and was a constant presence at Revere Park, where he played basketball, Dalia said.

"When we first read stories, people assume" he was a gang member, she said. "He was not a bad kid. He knew more neighbors than us."

"I'm glad to hear a lot of the good stuff," Irma said. "I've met people I never knew in my life."

[Facebook/The Residents of Irving Park]

By the time the march made its way to Fruityland Ice Cream, 4610 N. Kedzie Ave., the walk had taken on the air of a family night out.

Seeing the large gathering, instead of just posting on Facebook, "puts people at ease," said Jennifer, who preferred not to give her last name.

"Once you see all these people, we're all in this together," she said.

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