Members of a Hispanic street gang pointed to two of their own in last week’s shooting of two plainclothes Chicago police officers, information that led to the arrest of one man involved in the attack and the identification of a second suspect who remains at large, police officials said Sunday.

After officers tracked down some members of the La Raza street gang, the members acknowledged the seriousness of the Tuesday shooting of the two officers, who were driving in a covert Chicago Police Department van in the 4300 block of South Ashland Avenue when a passenger in a minivan traveling behind the officers opened fire with a military-style semi-automatic rifle.

“Everyone in the gang knew at that point that these guys did not shoot rival gang members, they shot officers,” Chicago police Area Central Cmdr. Brendan Deenihan said of the La Raza members at a Sunday news conference. “At that point, these individuals cooperated with us and we were able to identify the driver and the shooter. We were able to arrest the driver of the van. He confessed to what he has done, and he’s charged as an adult. We are still looking for the shooter at this time. It’s a very active and ongoing investigation.”

Angel Gomez, 18, was charged Saturday night with two counts each of attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm. He’s expected to appear at a bond hearing Monday.

In detailing the events surrounding the shooting for the first time, Deenihan said Chicago police had no reason to believe the suspects knew they were following and shooting at police officers.

“They thought they were probably shooting at a rival gang member, but it’s not like the van was throwing up gang signs or pointing weapons at them,” Deenihan said. “They shot right into the back of it. It could have been a van full of kids for all they know.”

The two Deering District tactical officers were investigating another gang-related shooting that occurred earlier last Tuesday night near 20th and Halsted streets. A 15-year-old boy was wounded in the left leg while riding in a black SUV, and those riding in the vehicle later called officers, Deenihan said, adding that the boy was hospitalized and their vehicle was processed by officers.

In investigating the earlier shooting, police identified the individuals in the vehicle as members of La Raza, Deenihan said. When the members were done being questioned by police, the two officers began to follow them in the covert police van because of the possibility the members would seek retaliation against a rival gang, police said.

But as the officers followed that vehicle, the gang members noticed they were being followed and phoned others, Deenihan said. Soon after, the officers made eye contact with men in a vehicle that pulled up alongside them and “got the feeling things were not going right” and decided to return to their station, he said.

Before the officers could do so, an individual in a stolen Chrysler minivan behind them opened fire, striking the police van’s gas tank, which led the vehicle to roll to a stop, Deenihan said. Officers believe only one shooter opened fire from the minivan, he said.

“The CPD van then starts to come to a halt as the stolen minivan is coming around the left-hand side of our van, the door swings open, a high-powered rifle starts riddling the covert van with bullets, going through and through,” Deenihan said. “It’s actually quite remarkable, and everyone is thankful, that the officers were not killed.”

Police said the two officers returned fire through their windshield after being wounded, one in the arm and hip and the other in the back. The gang members then fled, ditched their car, which had flat tires, and hid the .223 caliber high-powered rifle used in the shooting in some woods near 38th Street and Racine Avenue, Deenihan said.

One of the suspects buried the weapon, which was later located by a K-9 dog. Deenihan said officers have identified where the gun was purchased and were working with federal officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to identify its ownership history. He declined to identify where the gun was purchased or whether it was in Illinois.

Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson described the gun as a “weapon of war,” and directed the department to release photos of the black police van pocked with bullet holes. Johnson vowed the shooter would be apprehended. Police did not release that suspect’s identity.

In February, the Tribune reported that La Raza was one of four Hispanic gangs believed to be responsible for about three dozen shootings since early 2016 tied to semi-automatic rifles in the Southwest Side neighborhoods of Back of the Yards and Brighton Park. Police said that was the only area of the city where rifles styled after AR-15s and AK-47s were regularly used, a menacing new development in the gang fights.

At the time, there had been more than 30 shootings in those neighborhoods tied to semi-automatic weapons, with 46 people shot in those attacks, 13 of them fatally. Police have suspected the guns are being passed around by members of the four rival Hispanic gangs in the area — La Raza, the Almighty Saints, Satan Disciples and Gangster Two-Six.

Asked Sunday if officers knew why semi-automatic rifles were being used so frequently in Back of the Yards and Brighton Park or where they were coming from, Johnson did not give an answer, other than to acknowledge the trend. He did, however, reiterate his push for stronger sentencing laws for gun crimes.

“We just have to absolutely do something about this gun violence,” Johnson said. “If these individuals, these maniacs, would shoot at the police like that, do you think they would really care about shooting at an average citizen in this city? The answer is no.”

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(c)2017 the Chicago Tribune

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