800 at rites for girl gunned down in park

LOGAN SQUARE | 'Playgrounds should not be cemeteries,' minister tells mourners

July 1, 2007

BY BEN GOLDBERGER Staff Reporter/bgoldberger@suntimes.com

A huge white teddy bear stood guard at the side of the coffin as nearly 800 friends, family and classmates crowded into Armitage Baptist Church on Saturday to say goodbye to murdered 13-year-old Schanna Gayden and decry the gun violence that killed her.

"Schanna Gayden was an honor student, an athlete who done the right things in life. ... We know the innocence of the victim," said the Rev. Marshall Hatch. "The message is clear. We are in a crisis in our culture and our community."

"Schanna Gayden was an honor student, an athlete who done the right things in life. ... We know the innocence of the victim," said the Rev. Marshall Hatch. "The message is clear. We are in a crisis in our culture and our community."

Schanna was killed Monday when a gang member's stray bullet hit her in the head as she was buying watermelon in a park half a block from her Logan Square home, police have said. The accused murderer, Tony Serrano, 19, is being held in Cook County Jail without bail. Mwenda Murithi, who allegedly ordered Serrano to shoot into the crowded park, is being held on a $2 million bond.

Schanna was killed Monday when a gang member's stray bullet hit her in the head as she was buying watermelon in a park half a block from her Logan Square home, police have said. The accused murderer, Tony Serrano, 19, is being held in Cook County Jail without bail. Mwenda Murithi, who allegedly ordered Serrano to shoot into the crowded park, is being held on a $2 million bond.

'Now she's gone'

Schanna was the third Chicago child in five days to be caught in gang cross fire and the 25th Chicago Public Schools student gunned down this year, numbers not lost on the hundreds of mourners inside the church.

"Playgrounds should not be battlegrounds," said the Rev. Charles Lyon. "Playgrounds should not be cemeteries."

As three men propped her up, Joyce Mitchell remembered her granddaughter as "so loving and so caring [that] if I had a heart like hers, I'd put it outside my chest and give it to someone because it couldn't contain all that love. ... When she would smile, I would turn the lights off because it just lit up the room. ... Now she's gone. She's riding her golden bike with the winds of heaven in her face and a smile."

Dozens of students and faculty from Ames Middle School, where Schanna was an honor student and basketball star, attended. Many of the kids wore memorial T-shirts, with photos of a beaming Schanna and her jersey number "33" and "Gone But Never Forgotten" airbrushed across the front.

'We're going to start the healing'

One classmate echoed the hope of many of the speakers that Schanna's death will galvanize opposition to gangs and guns.

"Schanna made a difference because even though she's gone now, she brought the whole neighborhood together. Look at everybody in this room," the boy said, as the diverse crowd that included politicians such as Sen. Dick Durbin, preachers, supposed gang members and cops rose to its feet. "I'm pretty sure in this neighborhood it's gonna be a while before we hear another gunshot."

Schanna's mother, Rita Sallie, who left the sanctuary in tears twice during the service, was collected and thankful afterward.

"We're not going to worry about the next step. We're going to start the healing tomorrow," Sallie said.

Gang taunts led to shots: prosecutors

June 29, 2007

BY ERIC HERMAN Staff Reporter/eherman@suntimes.com

Just before Schanna Gayden was shot dead, Mwenda Murithi ordered a fellow gang member to bring him "the thumper" -- a gun.

Moments later, Tony Serrano stood next to Murithi, a 9mm "thumper" in his hand. At Murithi's urging, Serrano lifted the gun and fired at members of a rival gang, according to prosecutors. Schanna, a 13-year-old girl playing nearby, caught a bullet in the head as Serrano emptied his gun.

"It's a seemingly never-ending story of gangs trying to show other gangs that they're stronger and meaner," Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Maria McCarthy said Thursday after a bond hearing for the men.

Judge Laura Sullivan ordered Serrano, 19, held without bail. She set Murithi's bond at $2 million. Both are alleged members of the Imperial Gangsters.

Murithi, an illegal immigrant from Kenya, asked Sullivan to notify his country's consulate of his arrest.

On Monday evening, Murithi was attempting to lure members of the Spanish Cobra street gang into Imperial Gangster territory, McCarthy said. As gang members shouted dueling slogans across Central Park Avenue -- the dividing line between the gangs' territory -- Murithi yelled, "Come on, you b - - - - - -!" McCarthy said.

'I was powerless to do anything'

Mom, neighborhood mourn girl slain by gang crossfire

By Alexa Aguilar, Antonio Olivo and Azam Ahmed, Tribune staff reporters. Staff reporters Angela Rozas and Gary Washburn contributed to this report
Published June 27, 2007

Surrounded by dozens of playing children, Schanna Gayden and her cousin lingered at a Logan Square playground Monday evening, enjoying a snack from a nearby fruit cart. They heard what sounded like firecrackers, and Katie Wilson, Schanna's cousin, started to run. When she looked back, Schanna, 13, was lying bleeding on the ground.

Police say Schanna was caught in the crossfire of rival gangs, who claim the street that runs through the Funston Elementary playground as the border of their turf. Police on Tuesday arrested a 19-year-old reputed gang member who they say shot Schanna and have another person in custody who might be involved.

Schanna, who would have been an 8th grader at Ames Middle School this fall, died early Tuesday morning in Children's Memorial Hospital. She is the second Chicago Public Schools student to die since the school year ended this month; 32 students died during the school year.

In a working-class corner of Logan Square that has seen only trickles of the condominium development rushing through the West Side community, Schanna's death underscored long-festering problems that still plague pockets of some gentrifying neighborhoods.

"My baby was lying in the grass, and I was powerless to do anything," said Rita Sallie, Schanna's mother. When she heard the shots from inside her home, Sallie ran to the playground and found her daughter surrounded by police and stunned onlookers.

"I can't fathom it," she said. "Where can I move in this city where my remaining children will be safe?"

Schanna was shot near West McLean and North Central Park Avenues, a known border between two rival gangs -- the Imperial Gangsters and Spanish Cobras -- and the site of ongoing turf battles, gang officers said.

Shootings aren't rare in the area of modest brick two-flats surrounding the playground, said David Cassel, executive director of the Alliance of Local Service Organizations, a violence-prevention group.

Although shootings have declined in recent years, from 50 in 2002 to about nine last year, "the start of this year has really brought the trend back up," Cassel said.

Speculation on violence

As a sign of how the area's rapid changes infiltrate discussion on nearly everything that happens in Logan Square, community activists speculated that the trend was partly connected to the wave of condominium development rolling through Logan Square, with gang members fighting over less and less space.

"The space between them is getting a lot tighter," Cassel said. "You see one gang on one block and another gang on another block, where there used to be larger areas between them."

Police and local residents disputed that theory.

Unlike the narcotics or money-related wars between some gangs, police say these two gangs fight over pride and perceived slights, or just for the right to walk down a particular street. The randomness of their fights makes policing even more difficult, they said.

Nellie Rosa, who lives across the street from the playground at McLean and Central Park, said she's witnessed firsthand the gang violence that has pervaded the streets around her home. When she heard the shots Monday evening, she and her three small children dived for the floor of their ground-level apartment.

This morning, her 9-year-old son refused to walk across the street to summer school at Funston Elementary without her, she said.

"That park was full of kids when this happened," Rosa said. "If my kids can't play in a playground across the street, I don't know where they can play."

At the playground on Tuesday, the slides and swings were empty, as residents, clutching their children's hands, stopped by to place cards, teddy bears, flowers and a basketball on the ground in a makeshift memorial to Schanna. Later Tuesday, a crowd of about 125 gathered for a nighttime vigil.

"She was my little princess and I'm going to miss her a great deal," said her father, Schann Gayden, as he stared at the growing mound of tributes. "I wouldn't wish this on anyone's family."

Throughout the city, city leaders and community activists expressed anger at the senseless death of yet another Chicago child.

"There was a 13-year-old out at the park ... then a 19-year-old punk with a gun," said Mayor Richard Daley at an unrelated news conference Tuesday morning. "People need to be outraged."

More resources sought



Curbing the violence will take more than raising voices and awareness, said Tio Hardiman, director of mediation services at Cease Fire, an organization focused on curbing street violence.

"We can march all day long but if we don't provide the adequate resources to the men and women involved in the street life, we're going to keep running into problems like this," Hardiman said. "Over the past 30 days we've had marches all over the city, but what are the people going to do after the march ends?"

Sallie said she knew that dozens of Chicago students had been killed this year, but never imagined her child would be one of the victims.

"Thirty-four children. What can I say that the parents of those children haven't already said? No child should be buried by their parents," Sallie said.

She described Schanna as an honor-roll student who loved math and basketball and who was excited about attending Taste of Chicago this weekend.

Benjamin Zayas, Schanna's basketball coach at Ames Middle School, said she was a natural leader and athlete. Students gravitated toward her smile and positive attitude, he said.

On Tuesday, Ames students attending summer school seemed numbed by the news, he said.

"It's scary how exposed these students are to violence," he said. "It doesn't make any sense. She was such a great person . ., it breaks my heart."