CHICAGO - Khalil Denny wanted to watch a friendly ballgame in Washington Park, his mom said.
But about 7:45 p.m. Sept. 13, an argument between two groups near the baseball field escalated into an exchange of gunfire, killing Denny, 19, and Lionel Coward, 43, and wounding eight others.
"He was watching the softball game, he wasn’t playing. I don’t know why shots rang out," his mother, Lanette Denny, said. "Whatever’s going on I guess our teenagers aren’t safe here in Chicago anymore."
Now, activists with Acclivus Inc., an anti-violence group that organizes the friendly softball league between neighborhoods, say they are being wrongly blamed for the shooting and are not allowed to hold any more games.
The group held a balloon release in Washington Park on Wednesday for victims of the mass shooting and called on the Chicago Park District to reinstate its permits for future games.
"The shooting had absolutely nothing to do with this baseball game," Gwen Baxter, a trauma response specialist with Acclivus, told reporters. "Nobody at the game, no players, no spectators, no cooks, the people that were providing food, nobody had anything to do with that unfortunate incident."
"Shame on Chicago Park District for taking the permits," Baxter said. "They want to hold Acclivus accountable for what happened, but you cannot hold us accountable. This has been a good thing that’s going on, bringing people together, bringing communities together."
Chicago police Supt. David Brown last week said the shooting wasn’t connected to the game and may have stemmed from "a personal conflict with gang affiliations."
State Rep. Kam Buckner, a candidate for mayor, said Wednesday the shooting should spark more investment into violence prevention.
"We have to invest dollars into the pandemic of violence in this city in the same way we’ve invested dollars into COVID-19. It needs to happen, and if we do not release funds we will continue to release balloons," Buckner said.
Torrence Cooks, who coordinates the games for Acclivus, said the group held games without incident at other parks this summer. He said the goal of the games was to attract younger people away from the streets.
"We getting people hanging in the parks instead of just hanging on the corners," Cooks said.
That’s what Khalil Denny was trying to do. He was at the game with his friends, enjoying their company, his mother said.
Khalil was a "sneaker head" who loved shopping and was excited to celebrate his birthday this Friday, Lanette Denny, 49, said. He had recently bought a new bottle of Dior brand cologne for the occasion.
"He was a fun and loving person," she said.
Lanette Denny credits the groups Warrior Moms and Heal Your Heart for helping her make it through such a traumatic experience.
"I told everybody I was in the ICU, I was in critical condition, now I’m in stable condition."