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Family of autistic man in Vernon Hills looking for answers after he was beaten at park; police say there are ‘complicating factors’

A family in Vernon Hills is looking for answers, and police say they are investigating an incident that left Patrick Sanchez shaken and injured after he had been spending time at a park near his home on May 20.

Sanchez, a 29-year-old Vernon Hills resident who has autism, had been using the basketball court and swing set at Deerpath Park, according to family members, when he saw a group of four pick up and begin using his basketball.

Georgina Lillo, Sanchez’s mother, said she was sitting in her car doing some work in the adjacent parking lot when she looked up after hearing the start of the altercation. She reported to a responding Vernon Hills police officer that one of four young men in the group punched Patrick, and that they began kicking him while he was on the ground.

“When he was on the floor, they were kicking him,” Lillo said. “It is totally wrong, what they did.”

Lillo said she dashed over to the court, screaming at the group to stop, and said someone attending a nearby birthday party at the park also helped separate the group. As she took her son back to the car, she said, the group called the police on them, warned her not to leave and attempted to note her license plate number.

Once police arrived, Lillo said they spoke with both sides, nearby witnesses and gave her a case number to follow up after the police report was completed.

“ (The police) saw his eye, his arms, he was bleeding, his glasses were broken,” Lillo said. There was not too much to talk (about). You can see everything.”

Vernon Hills Police Chief Patrick Kreis said the case involves “complicating factors.” He said the report from the incident is still being processed by the department, and that it will consult with the Lake County state’s attorney’s office about how to proceed with potential charges stemming from the incident.

“I’m comfortable to say it’s a case that’s going to take further investigation,” Kreis said. “When we have a case like this, we want to proceed carefully to make sure we get it right.”

Camila Sanchez Lillo, Sanchez’s sister, explained that ever since the incident, her brother has been distraught and extremely anxious. For much of his life, Deerpath Park has been a sanctuary.

“ (Deerpath Park) is a place where he used to be safe,” she said. “We live in Vernon Hills. This isn’t a place of ignorance. We should be able to know (he will be safe). Patrick went to school here. This is his community. Imagine if my mom wasn’t at the park, what would have happened to him?”

As her voice shook with emotion, Sanchez Lillo said her brother had to go to the doctor due to his injuries, as well as his psychiatrist, and that they had to change his medication because, “he is not able to function for more than five minutes.”

She explained that her brother is “super friendly” and that he is well known around the park, the neighborhood and at local restaurants. Some of his favorite things to do are to go to the park and play basketball, sing on the swings, collect twigs and other items to be recycled or properly disposed.

“It used to be a really safe space, where he can kind of just be himself,” she said. “He was like singing on the swings. You can hear him talking to himself, very loudly, but we’re outside.”

Now he can no longer even sleep on his own or function as he normally does, his family said.

“Anywhere he goes, he makes friends with everybody,” Sanchez Lillo said. “And just generally right now, he’s been having a bit of a tough time because he’s been in the hospital three times prior to this situation in the last month.”

Lillo said her son has a tendency to repeat things people say to him aloud to himself, especially when he takes showers, and that after the altercation she could hear Patrick repeating phrases like, “Give me my ball,” “Hahaha!” and “It’s not funny.”

“For autistic kids, it is very hard to understand sharing something sometimes,” Lillo said. “He doesn’t share with me, with my daughter, no. Everything is his, and that’s it. Nobody can (have it). He does not share.”

Lillo added that she heard the young men at the park tell police that Sanchez was a “crazy Mexican.”

Sanchez — who participated in an interview with the News-Sun but did not wish to discuss the incident himself — chimed in to point that out as well, saying, “I’m not Mexican, I’m Chileno!”

According to Vernon Hills police, the men involved in the confrontation with Sanchez are all adults.

Kreis said the department has interviewed each of them, in addition to Sanchez’s mother and other witnesses who were at the park during the incident. He said he could not share the names of the four individuals involved in the dispute, but said they are all from the Vernon Hills area.

Sanchez is still upset he lost his basketball in the incident, Lillo said, but his family is more concerned about his drastically heightened anxiety and worsened condition.

“Now his condition is awful,” Lillo said. “(His doctors) said it was really traumatic for him. Right now he is (wondering), why didn’t they give the ball back? This is the main concern for Patrick, but we don’t even worry about that. We are worried about his brain.”

The family is hopeful to get justice in the legal system, but it also wants to raise awareness in the community that people who have autism should not be feared or mocked, but embraced and treated with respect.

“Literally five minutes from our house, it shouldn’t be a scary place,” Sanchez Lillo said. “(This group), I don’t know if they go to high school, but I went to these places (in Vernon Hills). You interact with people from all different races and cultures and abilities.

“Ability isn’t something that is isolated from you in our community, so it is impossible in my brain to see how this is even a possibility of happening,” she said.