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Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards

Neighbors On Edge After Man Killed In Another Pilsen Shooting: ‘I Just Don’t See It Getting Any Better’

Robert Martinez, 29, was killed during the area's most recent shooting. Neighbors said it's difficult to remain hopeful things will change.

Robert Martinez, Michael Hernandez and Christian Ruiz (left, top right, bottom right) were all fatally shot on or near Western Avenue in Pilsen over the past several of months. Neighbors in the area said more immediate solutions are needed to address this gun violence.
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PILSEN — A four-block stretch of Western Avenue on the Southwest Side has seen a rash of brazen shootings since December, and neighbors said they’re not hopeful things will improve.

There have been at least four shootings on or near the 2300 Block of Western Avenue since December:

  • On Dec. 3, 28-year-old Michael Hernandez was shot dead while inside his car outside his home on 23rd Place between Western and Oakley avenues.
  • On April 13, 30-year-old Christian Ruiz was fatally shot while driving on Cermak Road near Western Avenue with his three young children. Ruiz tried to drive away but ended up crashing into a nearby store.
  • On May 17, there was a shooting on Western Avenue near 23rd Place during which a 17-year-old boy and 23-year-old man were wounded, the Sun-Times reported. Students had just been let out at nearby Finkl Elementary School and witnesses said they watched children run for cover.
  • On June 15 on Western Avenue near 23rd Place, Robert Martinez, 29, was inside his car when he was shot multiple times and killed.

The slaying of Martinez was a “senseless act of violence,” his father, Robert Urrutia, wrote in a GoFundMe to raise money for his son’s funeral. Urrutia couldn’t be reached for comment.

“My son Robert was an only child, a respectful, hard-working young man, whom was barely starting his life with his” fiancee, Urrutia wrote.

Neighbors said the violence has left them worried about their safety.

Miguel Chacon said the shootings have been “upsetting” and “unacceptable,” and he wants to see more immediate action.

Chacon said he agrees with calls for long-term investments in violence prevention and addressing social issues, but he also wants to see more immediate strategies, like coordination between police. He said he hasn’t noticed more police in the area or more police patrols after shootings, including last week’s.

“I just want a safe community,” Chacon said. “Crime is the biggest problem we have here [in Pilsen]. When I talk to people who moved out 30 years ago or 30 days ago, it’s always crime.”

Shootings and homicides have increased citywide in recent years, but they increased by greater percentages on the Southwest Side, including the 10th District, where these shootings occurred.

The 10th (Odgen) District includes the western parts of Pilsen and Little Village. It saw an 85 percent increase in murders between 2019 and 2021. This district saw 33 murders in 2019 and 61 in 2021. 

This year, there have been 13 murders in the 10th District compared to 23 during the same time last year. The 12th District, which covers the rest of Pilsen and the West Loop, has seen 10 murders this year compared to 13 by this time last year.

One 23rd Place resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said she was standing on her back porch May 17 when she heard gunshots from a shooting down the street and watched a driver roar down the block.

The neighbor said she doesn’t feel safe walking around with her family and has thought about moving. She might feel safer if her street could somehow better manage through-traffic, she said, but she questioned whether that would make a significant difference.

“There are cosmetic solutions … and then what?” she said.

Cynthia Montemayor, another resident on 23rd Place, said the shootings have left her feeling unsafe living on the street she’s called home for about 10 years. Montemayor said she was home during last week’s shooting and heard the gunfire over the sound of her TV.

“It’s so sad that it’s something that’s happening so often,” she said. “I literally am terrified. Somebody’s being murdered right outside my door.”

Montemayor said she would feel safer if there was more of a visible police presence in the area, but questioned how much of a deterrent it would really be.

“I’m just tired of it,” she said.

Chacon also said something like turning the street into a cul-de-sac might deter using the road as a getaway route.

Sigcho-Lopez has held community meetings so residents can say what they think needs to be done to address the violence. Neighbors have been split on strategies, with some wanting more police while others want a focus on violence prevention and intervention resources.

The alderman is working on a block-by-block approach to address specific streets’ needs, a spokesperson from his office said. His office is also awarding micro-grants to violence prevention outreach and working with the Police Department to improve their response time.

“Our office is taking a full approach to keep our community safe from violence, including hosting monthly public safety meetings, participating in CAPS meetings, planning for enhanced safety infrastructure, and prioritizing programs that help to get at the root cause of violence and prevent it,” the alderman said in a statement.

A license-plate reader is also coming to the intersection of Cermak Road and Western Avenue, a spokesperson for Sigcho-Lopez’s office said.

District Commander William Betancourt said in an email the four recent shootings are still under investigation. He would not say if police presence has increased in the area.

Chacon said it’s difficult to remain hopeful things will change while he doesn’t see many immediate solutions being implemented, but he’s committed to attending the alderman’s monthly meetings.

“Not because I expect anything to come out them. … I am the only one who’s been openly vocal in my demand for [the alderman’s office] to include the police,” Chacon said. “I just don’t see it getting any better.”

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