Developmentally disabled man may lose sight, taste after shooting, says father, who witnessed the Back of the Yards attack

Henny Ray Abrams, File/AP Photo

Panic and fury have taken hold of Philip Rega, the father of a developmentally disabled man wounded in a hail of gunfire in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood on Wednesday while he waited for a school bus.

The 21-year-old son, Jesus, remains in critical condition at Stroger Hospital, but is “responding pretty well,” after being shot in the head and shoulder, his father said.

In the attack, about 6:30 a.m., three assailants yelled gang slogans and fired more than 30 times from across the street where Jesus, who is “nonverbal” and has cognitive delays, was waiting for the bus with his dad and brother, 15, who also is developmentally disabled.

“All I could see was the flame from the barrel of the gun,” Rega said.

The assault on the family, which occurred on the 4700 block of South Wolcott Avenue, sparked immediate outrage and condemnation from both law enforcement and public officials.

“Someone with special needs being approached and having nearly 40 rounds fired at him ... it’s disgusting and it’s shameful,” said Ald. Ray Lopez, 15th, whose ward the shooting was in. He told the Tribune on Thursday evening that he is “disgusted” by the attack and his emotions are still “raging.”

“It’s gang life and gang activities only lead to one direction,” Lopez said. “We understand that when we see gangbanger shootings and killing each other, but when it’s someone completely innocent, the innocent of innocents,” it reaches a new low, he said.

Doctors told the family that Jesus may lose some vision and taste, according to Rega, whose 15-year-old son is also nonverbal and has similar developmental disabilities as his older brother.

“His condition is pretty good. He’s stable but still in critical condition,” said Rega. “He’s opening his eyes and moving around, responding pretty well.”

The morning of the shooting, the brothers, headed to their school, got out there early with Rega, not wanting to miss the bus, which usually arrives sometime before 7 a.m., Rega said. He was holding his teen son’s hand.

It was dark still but Rega was able to make out three assailants wearing black clothing walking toward them from 48th Street.

According to a Chicago police report, as they got closer, one of them screamed: “What do you think you’re doing? Who you be?” The three then began yelling “2-6!” according to the report.

Rega whipped out his cellphone and began to call 911 when one of the group began firing — at least 30 times from across the street. ShotSpotter, a gunfire detection system, alerted to 39 rounds at the scene, and multiple shell casings were recovered, Deering District Cmdr. Don Jerome said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Still clutching his hand, Rega and his 15-year-old “ducked” to the ground. Though Jesus “automatically dropped” and was only 5 feet away, Rega could not reach him in time.

Jesus collapsed and began bleeding from the head. He’d been shot in the forehead, the top of the head and the left shoulder, police said.

As Rega ran to him to give him comfort and keep him revived, he stayed on the line “every little minute” with the 911 dispatcher.

“I was in panic mode, I was furious and panicky,” Rega said. “I was trying to protect my sons more than anything.”

They were right across the street from us when they began “using gang profanity,” Rega recalled.

“They thought I was one,” Rega said, referring to a member of an opposing gang.

As detectives were investigating, an 80-year-old man who lives nearby approached and handed them two bullets that he found inside his house after they’d smashed through his door.

Jerome said Wednesday that the location of the shooting is a “gang area” with an ongoing gang conflict. After the attack, the three assailants ran away and were not in custody, police said. No arrests have been made.

An anonymous $1,000 reward has been issued for any information that leads to the capture of the assailants, said Lopez, and a nearby school has footage of the attack that they will be sharing with detectives.

Lopez believes the community needs to become much angrier because “that’s the only way this is going to change.”

rsobol@chicagotribune.com