OLD TOWN — A “person of interest” is in custody in connection with a Lincoln Park robbery and shooting caught on surveillance video that critically wounded a 23-year-old man, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said Monday.
Chicago Police are questioning a 19-year-old man about the attack, in which Dakotah Earley was ambushed, robbed and shot in his head about 3 a.m. May 6 in the 1300 block of West Webster Avenue, Hopkins said during a community safety meeting Monday at the Moody Church, 1635 N. LaSalle Drive.
“He has not been charged, so we can’t say this officially, but I can say unofficially there’s substantial evidence to connect him to this crime,” Hopkins said.
The people involved in Earley’s attack are believed to have been behind a string of 20 to 30 armed robberies in the neighborhood that week, Hopkins said.
The person in custody has five carjacking arrests on his record from the last two years, Hopkins said.
“You could argue he never should have been on the street in the first place,” Hopkins said. “It’s inexcusable and unacceptable that a pattern of behavior like that is just allowed to continue unabated.”
Earley was walking through the neighborhood with a bag of groceries when he was attacked, Hopkins said. Earley gave up his backpack and the groceries, but struggled with a gunman when he demanded his phone.
“He panicked and didn’t want to let go of his phone, and it almost cost him his life,” Hopkins said. “He was shot three times.”
Earley underwent surgery at Illinois Masonic Medical Center to have his jaw reconstructed, so it’s wired shut and he can’t speak, Hopkins said. Earley will need speech therapy and a voice box in order to talk, but he’s started communicating with hand signals.
“That’s been very encouraging,” Hopkins said.
On the GoFundMe page to raise money for Earley’s recovery, his family said doctors had to amputate his left leg below the knee last week because of dead tissue and muscle.
Hopkins said he’s talked to Earley’s mother every day since the shooting, and learned Earley moved to Chicago six months ago to pursue his dream of becoming a chef. He had recently completed a culinary arts course and was working at the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
The alderman lives near the scene of the shooting, and Earley’s mother has asked Hopkins to introduce her to two of his neighbors who ran to help her son and gave him first aid before police and paramedics arrived, Hopkins said.
“They woke to the sound of gunfire at 3 o’clock in the morning and ran out their door without hesitation or concern for their own safety,” Hopkins said. “His mom wants to meet them to thank them for what they did for her son.”
Neighbors attending the safety meeting burst into applause upon hearing a person of interest was in custody.
Hopkins shared the updates about Earley’s condition during a meeting where the majority of neighbors shared concerns about an unsanctioned party Wednesday that drew hundreds to North Avenue Beach, where they climbed onto lifeguard towers and nearby CTA buses.
Videos shared on Twitter showed a crowd of young people taking over the streets near the intersection of North Avenue and LaSalle Drive. Multiple people can be seen standing on cars and dancing.
The event was anonymously promoted on social media and encouraged people to bring their own alcohol and drugs, Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said in a newsletter update to her constituents.
About 400 partygoers, mostly 14-21 years old, crowded the beach that evening until police officers broke up the gathering for safety reasons, Smith said.
Old Town neighbors said they were “terrified” by the mass of people, and demanded answers from local leaders to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Hopkins said police did not have enough time to plan a strategy.
“They didn’t have a long enough warning for what was about to happen. They had mere hours to prepare for that, rather than days,” Hopkins said. “They did what they could in a short period of time. Was it effective? … No. It was not an effective response.”
Hopkins said officers tried things like reducing access to North Avenue Beach and restricting local transit options to make it more difficult for people to get to the area. Officers held a “pretty long meeting” in the party’s aftermath to debrief the incident, he said.
“They’re responding, and I have full confidence in our police commander of the 18th District,” Hopkins said. “He knows what you saw was unacceptable, and he knows it cannot be allowed to happen again.”
18th District Police Commander Jon Hein said Chicago Police tried to prepare for the party after they were notified about it, but when the crowd began to “swell,” he decided it was safest to make everyone leave.
“That’s when we engaged and I decided to shut it down, because when it gets dark on the beach, you can’t see within the crowds or what’s going on,” Hein said. “So we decided for public safety of the kids involved and the officers involved that enough was enough.”
Hein said he requested additional resources to prevent such large gatherings going forward and that the resources were “shored up.”
“I believe in proactive policing,” Hein said. “I don’t like to sit back and watch what unfolded on the beach happen.”
Hein declined further comment, and missed part of the meeting as he and his officers responded to a fatal shooting at Warwick Allerton Hotel in Gold Coast.
Police responded to the 100 block of East Huron Street around 4:55 p.m. and found a man and a woman both unresponsive, each with a gunshot wound to the head, authorities said.
The man was pronounced dead at the scene, and the woman was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where she died, police said.
A death investigation is ongoing.
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