PILSEN — Neighbors urged leaders at Benito Juarez Community Academy in Pilsen to prioritize students’ ideas for making the school safer after two students were killed and two more were wounded in a shooting outside the school.
About 100 community members attended the emergency local school council meeting online, which was called to discuss a Dec. 16 shooting immediately outside the school, 2150 S. Laflin St., shortly after classes dismissed.
More people tried to join the meeting, but they were unable to because of the participants limit on the school’s Zoom subscription.
There’s now an increased police presence in the area, and Chicago Public Schools will conduct a routine review of the school’s safety protocols, said Ronan Shableski, CPS deputy chief of security.
Community organizations have also stepped up to provide care for students and staff by creating spaces where people can process what happened with professionals. There are also telehealth resources available for students to use while they’re home for winter break.
“Our plan was to transform our school into a center for healing, one in which students and staff can process, reflect and start the healing process,” said Juarez Principal Juan Carlos Ocon.
School staff and parents warned Juarez administrators against relying too heavily on the police, instead encouraging leaders to listen closely to student concerns and incorporate more restorative justice practices.
“This school over-polices its students in every way imaginable, and this contributes to the ongoing violence that continues happening,” a student said. “Having more security guards and surveillance on the students won’t do anything but criminalize them.”
Another student said they’re “not being heard” when they speak up.
“It kind of sucks that tragedies like this have to happen to have administration and other people get woke about it because these problems have been happening for a very long time in our community,” the student said. “These supports should be given to students always, not only when this type of stuff happens.”
Neighbors expressed concern that only two students got to speak during the meeting. The local school council members said they’ll plan more conversations with students in their own spaces to ensure they’re comfortable and their opinions are heard.
“It’s scary because this is their community just as much as it is ours,” said Leonardo, a Pilsen resident who works in violence intervention. “It’s important to validate their feelings, their emotions, their thoughts.”
Police are investigating the shooting and following multiple leads, Shableski said during the meeting. There is no reason to think the gunman was a student at the school or that they were ever inside the building, he said.
The gunman opened fire at 2:45 p.m. — just as students were leaving for the day — shooting four teens right outside the school and killing two of them.
Two boys were shot in their heads and died at the hospital, police said. They were identified as Brandon Perez, a 15-year-old Benito Juarez student, and Nathan Billegas, a 14-year-old Chicago Bulls College Prep student, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.
A 15-year-old boy was hit in his thigh and shoulder, and a 15-year-old girl’s thigh was grazed, police said. They were hospitalized in good condition, police said. Those victims were students at Juarez.
Police released images of the suspected gunman Saturday.
Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to contact Area Three detectives at 312-744-8261 or report a tip anonymously at cpdtip.com.
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