A 16-year-old on juvenile probation opened fire into a busy street after seeing a rival flash gang signs, hitting his intended target in the back — but also shooting 8-year-old Melissa Ortega in the head while she crossed the street with her mother, Cook County prosecutors said in court Thursday.
Emilio Corripio, a teen prosecutors said is a self-admitted member of the Latin Kings, then got back into a car driven by 27-year-old Xavier Guzman, and the two drove around to buy sandwiches and drinks without “a care in the world,” Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy said.
Both Corripio and Guzman were charged with murder and ordered held without bond Thursday by Judge Susana Ortiz.
Corripio is on intensive juvenile probation after pleading guilty to two carjackings and possession of a stolen motor vehicle, Murphy said. He is being charged as an adult.
Guzman, an off-duty cabdriver, picked up Corripio in his distinctive cab the afternoon of Jan. 22 and the two began to drive around, Murphy said. When they saw two people at the corner of 26th Street and Komensky Avenue flashing gang signs affiliated with the Two-Six gang, Guzman drove into a nearby alley and stopped the car while Corripio got out, Murphy said.
He fired multiple shots, hitting one of the rival gang members in the back. A man and his 9-year-old daughter were in a nearby car waiting for the Two-Six gang members to leave the area before getting out of their car, Murphy said. Their car was sprayed with Corripio’s bullets.
And 8-year-old Melissa, who was crossing the street holding her mother’s hand, was shot in the head and fell to the ground.
“This 8-year-old girl’s life is over because of this gang nonsense between these two defendants and the rival gang members they’re firing at,” Murphy said, noting that the 9-year-old girl in the car could easily have been shot as well.
While the shooter was captured on video, his face is not clearly visible in the footage, Murphy said. However, video tracks the cab driving around the city after the shooting, and about half an hour afterward, Guzman and Corripio went into a Subway restaurant to order sandwiches. Video from the restaurant shows Corripio’s face clearly, and he is wearing the same clothing as the shooter, Murphy said. Corripio’s face can also clearly be seen in footage from a gas station where they bought drinks after the shooting, Murphy said.
“I would point to the utter disregard for human life and pure callousness that both of these defendants showed during these events,” Murphy said. ” … After shooting that little girl in the head, what do they do? The drive to a Subway to get Subway sandwiches. On the video they don’t have a care in the world, they’re laughing, they’re eating their sandwiches.”
Much of the events before, during and after the shooting are captured on video, Murphy said, and the GPS in Guzman’s cab tracked the car’s movements extensively. Corripio can be seen in a dark jacket and mask pulling out a gun and firing shots, and moving around as he continued to shoot, Murphy said.
The rival gang member was shot in the back and managed to run into a nearby building with his companion. The 9-year-old girl and her father were not injured, but their car was shot multiple times, Murphy said.
“That dad did everything he could to recognize the gang activity … trying to keep her safe by staying in the car,” Murphy said.
And Melissa Ortega, wearing a pink hat, was holding her mother’s hand walking east on 26th Street. As they crossed Pulaski Road and heard gunshots, Melissa turned her head to look behind her, and they started jogging to get away from the gunfire, Murphy said.
But one of Corripio’s bullets struck Melissa in the head, and she fell to the ground at the corner of 26th and Pulaski, Murphy said.
Guzman and Corripio drove around in the cab for a while after the shooting, including their trip to Subway and the gas station, Murphy said. They also drove past the scene of the shooting later that evening, including driving past a memorial that was set up for Melissa, Murphy said.
Police set up surveillance on Guzman’s cab and placed him into custody, Murphy said. They found a handgun in the driver’s side door of the cab, and testing showed that the shell cartridges recovered from the shooting scene came from that gun, Murphy said. Corripio’s fingerprint was also found on the handle of the passenger’s side door, according to Murphy. Guzman told police that he was in the area at the time of the shooting, and said Corripio — whom he identified by nickname — used his gun, Murphy said.
Corripio was arrested after law enforcement officers who were familiar with him identified him from stills of the video footage, Murphy said.
Assistant Public Defender Chris Anderson, who represented both defendants Thursday, hinted that the Two-Six gang member should actually be held responsible for Melissa’s death, since he flashed the gang signs that led to the shooting.
Guzman is only alleged to have been the driver, Anderson said, and there is scant evidence that Guzman knowingly helped Corripio before or during the shooting. Driving someone somewhere “does not make the driver guilty of anything,” he said. “Maybe of not being wise.”
Guzman is a high school graduate who lives with his grandmother, Anderson said.
Records show that Guzman has a few drug arrests, but none that resulted in convictions.
Anderson also said Thursday that Corripio is in 11th grade, plays soccer, and lives with his parents.
At a news conference Wednesday announcing the charges, Cook County State’s Atty. Kim Foxx was asked about the teen being a repeat offender.
Foxx said it’s not a new phenomenon to see a teenager arrested with an adult with a gun.
“We have to be able to have, as the mayor has said, a whole of city approach to this to deal with the fact that young people are not going to be able to be incarcerated for the rest of their lives,” Foxx said. “So when they come out of the criminal justice system to be able to have some measures of support to deal with that. Because we are seeing people come back out and reoffend. That is not unique to this situation.”
She said young offenders need wraparound support and services to prevent them from reoffending.
“It’s incredibly frustrating because it’s also foreseeable,” Foxx said. “If we do not have resources and outlets for young people who are involved whether they’re part of the criminal justice system or not, we will continue to see engagement like this.”
At the same news conference announcing charges Wednesday, Pastor Matt DeMateo of New Life Community Church, who has been helping Melissa’s mother Aracelia Leanos shared a statement on her behalf.
“God gained an angel but I will always remember her infectious smile,’’ Leanos’ statement read.
“To the aggressor. I forgive you. You were a victim too. As a 16-year-old, the community failed you, just like it failed my precious baby … Words cannot describe the pain I am feeling. On January 22 I lost my greatest treasure in life. I lost my princess. She was the reason why I got up every morning.”
Leanos’ family was “filled with dreams” and had “high aspirations” when they moved to the United States, her mother said. “We imagined a better life here. We came in search of the American Dream we so famously hear of but instead I get to live a nightmare for the rest of my life.”
Leanos pleaded that Melissa’s death not be in vain and that the community should be filled with sadness and anger too.
“How is it possible that a little girl dies in broad daylight? How is it possible that we can send men to Mars but we can’t fix the gun violence in our city?” her statement read.
©2022 Chicago Tribune. Visit chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.