OLD TOWN — A Chicago Police squad car stood guard Wednesday down the block from where two 12-year-old boys and a Marshall Field Gardens maintenance staffer were caught in the line of fire in a drive-by shooting Tuesday.
"Right now, the block is empty," said Manierre Elementary Principal Derrick Orr. "It looks beautiful. It wasn't like that two days ago. This should be the norm."
Instead, Orr said, the "norm" is that two more local kids were shot in Old Town, joining a Jesse White Tumbler shot and killed 2½ years ago and 17-year-old twins slain just last October.
"Death is kind of the norm, and that's not what we want these kids to think," Orr said. "We want them to know they have a future."
Orr said that community members had confirmed what 2nd Ward Ald. Brian Hopkins reported after Tuesday's drive-by shooting: that the two boys and a 66-year-old man were caught in the line of fire outside the Green Apple Mini Mart, 1435 N. Sedgwick, at 2:41 p.m. Tuesday in a gang conflict involving an open-air drug market down the street.
The boys, out of school for Chicago Public Schools' spring break, were waiting along with the man and others for the mini mart to open after the manager had briefly closed for a midafternoon prayer when the shooting broke out from a passing car.
The victims, who were not the intended targets, were all were hospitalized and successfully treated. The two boys went to Lurie Children's Hospital.
Orr, who returned only Saturday from a weeklong college trip intended to give 25 Manierre eighth-graders a glimpse of a better life, said upon hearing of the shooting, "I went straight to the hospital, met both the parents. Both boys had finished surgery and they were in recovery. The parents seemed very optimistic."
According to Orr, one of the boys, a student at Jenner Elementary, 1119 N. Cleveland Ave., was shot in the chest, and the bullet passed through his lung. The other, a student at Manierre, 1420 N. Hudson Ave., was shot in his leg. His twin brother, also a Manierre student, was with him at the time of the shooting, but was not hit, although the Tribune reported he was "traumatized."
"They're both very good students," Orr said of the twins. "They both play sports. Neither one of them, I've never heard 'gang' come out of their mouths. They're very innocent 12-year-old sixth-graders. I've never seen them get in any kind of trouble."
The area, however, has been a gang drug battleground for years, going back to three years ago, when Manierre was being considered for closure, and beyond. Hopkins said police believe the shooting was gang-related over drug sales.
Hasan Jalaq, manager of the mini mart, said it was the first time he'd experienced any incident at the store.
"We don't have any problem, and we have been here three to four years. We never had any problem," he said. "It could happen right here. It could happen by Jewel. It could happen anyplace."
Orr, however, said it happens too often around the Marshall Field Gardens apartment complex. Manierre sits on the opposite side of that building from where Tuesday's shooting took place.
"I spend my time not trying to blame CPS and the police," Orr said. "The community has to take responsibility for the community. The community has to say enough is enough. We're not going to allow this to happen.
"I've stopped a few drug deals. They respect me," Orr added. "But 20 minutes later they're right back at it."
Manierre, he said, is kept open until 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. some days, and sometimes on weekends, to keep students off the streets. The school has raised its CPS rating to the point where it's on track to be considered in good standing at the end of the current school year, and Orr called it a "catalyst" for change in the community.
But he added, "After school hours, it's every man for himself."
Orr said they'd have a "crisis team" at Manierre next week for when students return, whether or not the injured boy is able to resume classes on schedule.
"This is what we're dealing with every day, and it goes back to one of the reasons why we really focused on the college tour," Orr said. "We were really trying to find different ways not only to provide different things here at the school, but also give our kids a different awareness of thinking, a big picture, so they won't end up making some of the mistakes these kids are doing."
Orr said that when he returned to the school Tuesday afternoon after visiting the families in the hospital, he was confronted outside by a student who told him, "Mr. Orr, I'm just tired of this. I'm tired of seeing the same thing over and over."
Orr said he had a similar experience when the college trip returned to Manierre.
"When we pulled up, there were two dice games and a drug sale," he said. "We had to ask them to stop as we got off the bus. Right out here. That's the reality our kids are facing, and that's not what we want them to have. We want them to be able to see that's not the norm.
"I was pretty sad," Orr said. "We returned from our college trip on Saturday after being gone a week and as we pulled up one of my eighth-graders was crying. And I asked her, 'Why are you crying? Aren't you happy to be home?' And she said, 'No, I wish I could go back. That was a life that I wish I could be a part of.' So she was dreading coming back into the community. She wanted the college community. She wanted to be away from the reality of what they face every day."