ROGERS PARK — A picturesque evening of youth baseball by the lakefront Tuesday evening turned into sheer panic after shots rang out at the park, according to police and witnesses — including state Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) whose son was in the game.
Cassidy, a Rogers Park resident and state legislator who is a noted gun-control advocate, said she was watching her son happily pitch at Loyola Park for the Loyola Park Dodgers when "the night took a surreal turn."
Suddenly, what was believed to be the sound of gunshots rang out from near the corner of the field at 1230 W. Greenleaf Ave.
Parents, including Cassidy, began moving children and players into the nearby field house to flee the possible firefight.
"I fought back tears as I helped to herd the rest of the kids into the safety of the building," Cassidy wrote in an online post after the shooting. "I comforted my son and the kids nearby, wondering what the hell I should say to them."
As they had learned in active shooter drills, the kids knew to make sure doors were closed and to hide, she said.
"It's obviously not the first time we've seen or heard gunshots in our neighborhood. We certainly experience our fair share," the state rep told DNAinfo Thursday. "But it really was sort of, 'It's a baseball game for Pete's sake.'"
Within minutes, a Chicago Park District employee said the game had been canceled.
"Let that sink in," Cassidy said. "A youth league baseball game was called on account of a shooting."
According to police, there were at least two calls for officers to investigate a possible shooting at Loyola Park — at 7:09 p.m. and at 7:31 p.m. One caller told police she wasn't sure if she had heard gunshots or a tire popping.
Officers searched the area, but finding no suspects, left after 10 to 15 minutes, police said.
The state rep said she heard later no injuries were reported in the incident and that a possible shooter had run away from the scene. Police said a caller described a person wearing no shirt running from the park.
Once people were told it was safe to leave the field house, Cassidy drove another player home and then tried to make the rest of the night feel as normal as possible. She ordered pizza, let her sons play video games and said a thankful prayer that no one was hurt, she said.
"And then I got pissed," she said.
"What can be said of our beloved city when even a kids' baseball game isn't safe from gun violence? Why can't I, as an elected state representative, make a difference in combating the violence plaguing our neighborhood? Why is this normal in neighborhoods all over our city?"
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) speaking in Edgewater about the state budget and criminal justice reform in 2016. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Cassidy focuses much of her work as a legislator on criminal justice reform. A bill she recently introduced would help regulate the flow of guns and help identify traffickers, she said.
Under the measure, Firearm Owner Identification cards would be revoked if the holder reports having a gun lost or stolen three or more times within a two-year span. The revocation also would apply to FOID card holders who fail to report lost or stolen guns that police later recover from crimes.
"It's frankly pretty simple: if you can't keep up with them, you shouldn't have them," she said. "This isn't about who loses one or two or gets robbed once. This is about someone who is truly either so irresponsible with their weapons they're not keeping up with them, or who is using lost or stolen as an excuse to actually being a trafficker."
Though Cassidy said she believes the measures are a "reasonable policy that deserves a proper hearing and debate on its merits," so far she hasn't been able to drum up much support for it.
"I've heard nothing but crickets," she said.
"Fire hose of illegal guns"
The problem of gun violence in Chicago is a complex one, Cassidy acknowledged, and to fully combat it requires seriously taking on an "unlimited supply of guns and young men without hope" in the city.
However, the resources needed to do that — robust schools and social services, jobs and hope — combined with a "fire hose of illegal guns" into neighborhoods, makes the fight an uphill battle.
The state budget's ongoing impasse also has played a major role at chipping away at the services Cassidy said are needed to help stem the violence as program funding is cut.
"This uptick in violence directly corresponds to the budget standoff. We stopped taking care of our community," she said. "We can't pretend that that's not true."
Cassidy said the recent shooting has "lit a fire" in her to continue her efforts.
"To anyone who thinks there's a good explanation for why a kids' baseball game should be called due to a shooting — I'll tell you right now, you're a damned liar," she wrote in her statement. "You've pissed off the wrong mama bear."