CHICAGO (AP) — A man and teen were ordered held without bond Thursday in the shooting death of an 8-year-old Chicago girl, who was walking and holding her mother's hand when she was shot in the head by a gunman authorities say was targeting someone else.
Melissa Ortega died Saturday following the midday shooting along a busy city street, which Cook County Circuit Court Judge Susana Ortiz said showed "an absolute disregard for human life.”
Prosecutors say Xavier Guzman, 27, was driving a vehicle that stopped in the Little Village neighborhood on the city's Southwest Side on Saturday afternoon after a rival gang member leaving a store flashed gang signs. Emilio Corripio, 16, then got out of the car and fired toward the 29-year-old man, prosecutors said. The teen is being tried as an adult due to the seriousness of the crime, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx said.
Both were arrested on charges of first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder. Corripio is also charged with aggravated discharge of a firearm.
A prosecutor said Thursday that Guzman, a suburban cab driver, picked Corripio up in his cab before the shooting. The two were arrested after detectives analyzed surveillance video and license plate reader technology that allowed them to track down the vehicle Guzman was driving, which had the name of the cab, a phone number and a visually distinct logo, prosecutors said.
The surveillance video showed the car pull into an alley, where the gunman got out of the car and began firing, he said. The video then showed the gunman get back in the vehicle, which fled the scene.
After the shooting, surveillance video shows the two going to a Subway restaurant to buy sandwiches and later buying drinks at a gas station, according to prosecutors. Detectives also used GPS in the cab to track the suspects’ movements. They say the two drove by the scene of the shooting afterward, and that later that night the cab passed by a memorial site for the young girl. Police say they found a gun in the cab when Guzman was arrested, and ballistics testing showed it was the gun used in the shooting.
Corripio was arrested three times in 2021 for aggravated vehicular hijacking and was on probation at the time of Saturday's shooting, prosecutors said. Corripio's defense attorney said he is a high school junior who lives with his mother and father and plays soccer.
Melissa was a student at Emiliano Zapata Academy, an elementary school in the city’s heavily-Mexican neighborhood, according to the Chicago Teachers Union. A prosecutor said she was wearing a pink hat as she walked with her mother to run errands. When gunfire broke out, Melissa and her mother began running across a street. Video shows Melissa looking behind her, toward the gunfire as she was shot, prosecutors say. She was pronounced dead at a hospital later Saturday.
The man police say was the intended target was shot in the back and was hospitalized.
Melissa Ortega's mother, Araceli Leanos, said in a statement released by a family representative Wednesday that the two had been walking together immediately before the shooting. She said Melissa had just asked if they could get a hamburger after going to the bank when "My daughter stopped holding my hand and without explanation I found her on the floor with a puddle of blood and a bullet to her head.”
Leanos said her family emigrated to Chicago from Mexico six months ago “in search of the American dream."
“Instead I get to live a nightmare the rest of my life,” she said.
Prosecutors said that a 47-year-old man and his 9-year-old daughter were also in their car near the scene of the shooting on Saturday when the father saw the man flashing gang signs. He and his daughter stayed in their car, which was hit by gunfire. They were not injured, prosecutors said.
Chicago has seen a spike in homicides, recording roughly 800 last year — the city's deadliest in a quarter century.