In less than four hours on Tuesday, two 15-year-old students from Simeon Career Academy High School were fatally wounded in separate gun attacks, leaving friends and mentors to mourn the loss and students reeling as they left school Wednesday — many meeting up with concerned parents.
Just after classes let out about 2:40 p.m. Tuesday, Jamari Williams was standing not far from the school in the West Chatham neighborhood with friends when two people fired at him, according to Chicago police. Later that evening, about 6:30 p.m., Kentrell McNeal was shot and killed while in a vehicle in the Hyde Park neighborhood, police said. A 14-year-old boy was also injured.
In the first attack, authorities were called to the 8300 block of South Holland, about a half mile away from Simeon, 8147 S. Vincennes Ave.
According to a police report, Jamari was standing outside a bank in a strip mall when he was shot. After he fell to the ground, the shooters stood over him and continued shooting, the report said. Detectives recovered 20 spent casings along with two bullet fragments.
Jamari was shot in the chest and taken to the University of Chicago Medical Center in critical condition, where he was pronounced dead at 3:17 p.m.
Detectives believe other students were in the area during the shooting and are seeking witnesses, the police report says.
The Rev. Donovan Price, a community activist and anti-violence advocate, said there were 30 to 40 students gathered when the shooting occurred.
Price, who accompanied Jamari’s family to the hospital, said the teen’s family spoke about how Jamari had liked to rap, and how much he had loved football and sports — “that was his thing,” said Price — adding he was “wanting (football) to lead to a better life for his family.”
”He really, really planned on that leading to bigger and better things. Dreams, you know, that kids have,” Price said.
Price said family members said Jamari’s father had been shot and killed the year before.
“Instead of getting used to it, it actually just multiplies the pain,” he said of two members of one family being fatally shot. “I think that more people need to realize the importance of each and every person killed by gun violence, not just get used to it like, ‘Oh, another one, ’” he said.
Hours later, Kentrell and the 14-year-old boy were shot at while in a vehicle in the 5200 block of South Lake Park Avenue, a police report said.
The vehicle was parked at a gas station when three people started arguing with them, according to a police report. As the boys’ vehicle began to leave the area, the shooters hid behind a nearby McDonald’s and began firing at the car, the report said.
Kentrell was shot in the head and initially listed in serious condition at Provident Hospital, police said. He was later pronounced dead at 9:33 a.m. Wednesday, according to information from the medical examiner’s office.
Kentrell was involved with GoodKids MadCity, an anti-violence group, and played basketball as part of the organization’s Detour program, according to Carlil Pittman co-founder and executive director of GoodKids MadCity Englewood.
He was “a role model to the other boys,” said Pittman, including to Pittman’s 11-year-old son.
Every other weekend, McNeal and his teammates would call and ask to go to Pittman’s house to hang out, or to go to the gym with Pittman and play basketball, “giving them a space just to be young people,” an opportunity not often afforded to Chicago’s young Black boys, he said.
McNeal was a genuine teenager, and funny, said Pittman. “He always had a joke or a way to make you smile in a tense moment.”
After classes let out Wednesday, students and parents talked about rumors on social media that someone may start shooting at the school in retaliation for the killing of two students.
Cars were lined up down Vincennes outside Simeon at dismissal time. Marked and unmarked Chicago police cars were also scattered down the block as parents ushered their children carrying backpacks into their cars and headed home.
A mother and daughter, who both wanted to be identified with their first initials, both “K,” and last name Anderson — out of safety concerns — were one of those families. The mother said another parent called her and asked, “Did you get your daughter?” And when Anderson said no and asked why, the parent told her that there were rumors of a shooting.
“That’s all I need to hear,” Anderson said, and she drove to the school.
The daughter shared the message posted on social media that said, “@All Simeon Students Get Ah Early Dismissal They Texting People They Finna Shoot Up The School When We Get Out ...”
“Go get those babies NOW!!” another responded.
The student said the atmosphere at school “was really gloomy, dark,” after students heard of their classmates being killed. It wasn’t until around fifth period when she was in gym class that things became hectic with parents picking up their kids early.
Another parent, Kenya Westbrook-Flowers, also picked up her 14-year-old daughter, Kennedy Westbrook.
She said her daughter contacted her to pick her up after other kids were telling each other to call their parents to go home early because of a threat.
Chicago Public Schools released a statement citing student and staff safety as its top priority. “We were made aware of a threat on a social media post that mentioned the name of Simeon High School. The Chicago Police Department and CPS Office of Safety and Security worked together and ultimately, the threat was deemed not credible.”
Kennedy said she had three classes with Kentrell, including English, gym and biology. She said, “He played a little bit.”
She heard he died Wednesday when counselors came into the classrooms to talk to students.
“I felt bad for his friends because they were crying,” she said.
Her mother said she is thinking about taking her daughter out of Simeon because she’s concerned for her safety, especially with one of the shootings being so close.
“This is really sad and nobody is doing anything about it,” Westbrook-Flowers said. “I’m staying prayerful. ... Let the mayor, let the governor know: (retaliation shootings), children being killed, seem to happen every day.”
Chicago Tribune’s William Lee contributed.