Left: Neighbors gather on 26th Street to mourn 8-year-old Melissa Ortega death. She was fatally shot on the street Saturday afternoon. Credit: Chicago Police Department/ Provided

LITTLE VILLAGE — Little Village neighbors are mourning the loss of 8-year-old Melissa Ortega, who was fatally shot Saturday afternoon on busy 26th Street in Little Village.

At about 2:45 p.m. Saturday, Melissa and her mother were walking on the 4000 block of West 26th Street near South Pulaski Road when someone fired shots at a 26-year-old man who was coming out of a store at the same time. 

Melissa was shot in her head in the crossfire, police said. She was taken to Stroger Hospital where she was later pronounced dead. The man was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital in critical condition. Melissa’s mother was not injured.

Police said Monday morning there are no updates, but they are still investigating. 

Melissa and her mother were not the intended target, police said. The shooting’s motivation is still unclear, but police said a gang feud in the area is ongoing, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. 

Melissa and her mother immigrated to Chicago from Mexico this past August, according to a fundraiser started to help pay a funeral and to bring her to her hometown in Mexico.

“They were both excited to start a new life in Chicago and build their American Dream,” the fundraiser organizer wrote. “I was honored to have met Melissa and will always remember her beautiful smile.”

The GoFundMe has raised nearly $43,000 as of Monday morning. 

Melissa was a student at Emiliano Zapata Academy in Little Village, according to the Chicago Teachers Union. 

“Tonight, our union mourns the loss of another student from one of our school communities,” the statement read. “This suffering is becoming all too familiar for many of Chicago’s children and families, who our educators nurture and support every day.”

Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D- Illinois), a Little Village resident, said in a statement Sunday the country must address root causes of gun violence that haunt communities like Little Village. 

“I am outraged and heartbroken that yet another young child’s life was cut short — a senseless, heartbreaking casualty of the gun violence that plagues our Little Village community,” Garcia said in the statement. “Melissa Ortega could have been any of my grandchildren and instead of living out her dreams, she was struck down by a stray bullet. I feel her parents’ pain and anger. How many children must we lose before we change course?”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot asked for anyone with information to come forward to police. 

“We simply must hold the shooters accountable for this horrific crime,” Lightfoot said. “Please come forward so that Melissa [Ortega’s] family will know that there is justice for her.”

Lightfoot said the Little Village community has “rallied to wrap its arms” around the Ortega family. Detectives have been working the case 24/7, the mayor said, and she hopes to have a “more substantive announcement soon.”

“There are some promising leads,” she said.

Neighbors held a vigil Sunday afternoon near the intersection where Melissa was shot. A crowd gathered to place candles, stuffed animals and flowers to honor the little girl’s life and ask for help identifying the shooter.

Other children have been injured or killed in shootings in Little Village in recent years.

In March 2021, a Chicago police officer shot and killed 13-year-old Adam Toledo after a brief foot chase in Little Village. Toledo had dropped a gun and was holding up his empty hands when the officer shot him, video showed.

After Toledo was killed and Lydia Jimenez, 17, was killed a week later, hundreds marched in Little Village to call for an end violence.

In October 2019, a 7-year-old girl was critically injured after she was shot while trick-or-treating on 26th Street.

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