LOGAN SQUARE — Under gray skies Monday evening, Ulysses Ceballos stood outside, overcome with disbelief.
Two days earlier, his stepdaughter Lena Nunez Anaya was watching TV with her brother at her grandmother’s house when a bullet tore through the window and hit her in the head, killing her.
Ceballos said that it hasn’t sunk in that the 10-year-old, who was always smiling, won’t be there anymore when he gets up to go to work in the morning.
“I just wish it was all a bad dream and she was still here with us,” Ceballos said. “She deserves justice. She did not deserve this. Such a great little soul she was.”
Neighbors and community leaders filled the street outside Lena’s grandmother’s home for a vigil Monday night, building a massive memorial with candles, balloons, flowers, teddy bears and family photos.
Many wiped away tears, others clutched their children tightly, but hardly anyone made a sound as they fixated on Lena’s grief-stricken family.
Later, a local pastor led the group in a prayer. As a light drizzle began to fall, anti-violence leaders took turns sharing their shock a stray bullet ended the 10-year-old girl’s life.
“This has got me shooken up. We can no longer accept our children being murdered in our streets, our babies that didn’t have a chance to grow up,” said Robert Torres, president of the anti-gun violence group Parents for Peace and Justice. “We’re all hurting as a city and as a community.”
The fatal shooting happened about 9:40 p.m. Saturday.
Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan said the shooting stemmed from a gang conflict. Members of a gang were outside of the home in the 3500 block of West Dickens Avenue when a rival gang member shot at them from almost a block away, aiming down an alley, Deenihan said.
One of the bullets came flying through Lena’s grandmother’s home.
Lena was one of two children shot and killed over the weekend. Earlier Saturday, a 1-year-old baby boy was shot and killed in Englewood.
And just a week ago, a 3-year-old boy and 13-year-old girl were shot dead on the West Side. Three other children were shot that same weekend.
“Once again, it’s gang-on-gang violence,” Deenihan said during Monday’s press conference of Lena’s killing. “And the opposing gang, they know who did it. And at this point, we need the information, once again.”
No arrests had been made in the case as of Monday evening, said police spokeswoman Guadalupe Sanchez.
At the vigil, anti-violence leaders and officials repeatedly called for justice for Lena’s family and urged anyone with information that could lead to an arrest to come forward.
“I pray that God will bring down justice on anyone that’s trying to cover this up,” a local pastor said. “And not just for this one; for all of the children who have been killed.”
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, whose 35th Ward includes Lena’s grandmother’s home, said, “She’s just 10 years old, a little baby.” He repeated it for emphasis.
“We don’t know who was shooting at each other. We don’t know what stupid nonsense provoked them to start shooting each other. But we know that a stray bullet took her life. I want you to think about that, that a little 10-year-old girl lost her life because people decided they needed to escalate their conflict to one of armed violence,” Ramirez-Rosa said.
‘She Should Be Here With Us’
Throughout the vigil, Lena’s family sat facing the memorial, turning to embrace each other in anguish when remarks hit home.
Anti-violence leaders urged reporters not to take photos of Lena’s family at any point during the vigil out of respect. One of Lena’s family members briefly addressed the crowd in Spanish through tears.
At the end of the vigil, anti-violence leaders asked those holding balloons to release them in memory of Lena. Someone shouted, “Rest in peace, baby!” as people clapped and balloons drifted higher into the sky.
Many stayed long after the releasing of the balloons to leave flowers and candles at the memorial and to express condolences to the family.
Ceballos, who helped raise Lena, described his stepdaughter as “such a sweet little girl” who was always brimming with positivity.
“She should be here with us,” Ceballos said, in between sorrowful hugs with friends and family members. “This is so unfair. This is just unbelievable.”
“She loved doing TikTok, she loved being in the pool. She loved to play with her younger siblings. She … always cared about other people,” he said.
“She had nothing but positive vibes coming out of her. That was her. She was just 10.”
Lena would have started fifth grade at Funston Elementary School in Logan Square this fall. Ceballos said she loved school, especially reading and math.
“I’d write all of these [math] problems and she’d get excited to do all of this work. She’d say, ‘Can you make some more problems for me?'” Ceballos said.
Lena’s cousins who declined to be named, said the 10-year-old was “always smiling.”
One cousin said a “20-minute walk talking with [Lena] felt like five” because they’d have the “best conversations.”
“We talked about everything, talked about how life is, school. She loved school,” the cousin said.
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