A nine-year-old Chicago boy was lured by gang members into a South Side alleyway and executed because of his father's alleged ties to a rival gang, according to police who said the murder was a new low in a city infamous for its gang-related violence.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said that the fourth grader, Tyshawn Lee, was targeted and slain Monday specifically because of his father's links to a gang. Earlier in July, the 7-year-old son of a gang leader was killed in crossfire aimed at the boy's father.
"This is a different level," McCarthy said at a press conference at the scene of the murder Thursday. "These are non-combatants now being assassinated... This is an innocent child, this is a 9-year-old child, targeted, lured to this spot and murdered. This is different."
The boy's father, Pierre Stokes, is refusing to cooperate with police, McCarthy added. Stokes later told reporters he was not the "gangbanger type," and said he had no idea who would want to hurt him or his son.
The latest death comes as Chicago's murder rates are on the rise. Police reported 391 murders from January 1 to October 25, up 18 percent from the same period last year.
FBI Director James Comey said recently that violent crime may be up because police are holding back from aggressive tactics, fearful of being videotaped and accused of brutality, but other experts say the ready availability of guns, or a growing heroin trade, may be to blame.
Father Michael Pfleger, a priest and social activist from the neighborhood, told reporters that in the past gang members left each other's children alone, but that the code had eroded.
"A baby was assassinated right behind us in this alley.... We have gone to a new low," said Pfleger, who offered to personally pay to relocate anyone who came forward with information but was scared of retaliation.
McCarthy, Pfleger and community leaders pleaded for people to get over their fear and to abandon the no-snitch code of Chicago's streets and come forward with information about the murder. They offered a $35,000 award.
The bloodshed in Chicago has inspired another nickname for the Windy City: "Chiraq." There have been more than 1,000 fatal shootings in Chicago this year alone — and more Americans have been killed in the city over the last 15 years than in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
In late October, President Barack Obama addressed the issue of gun violence in an address to top law enforcement officers in Chicago — his adopted hometown.
The city itself has strict gun control rules that prevent new handguns from being sold, but laws in surrounding states and counties are much more lax. Chicago police estimate that some 60 percent of gun crimes in the city are committed with weapons purchased in other states.
"It is easier for a lot of young people in this city and in a lot of your communities to buy a gun than a book," Obama said.