CHICAGO - It was supposed to be a joyous day in East Garfield Park, a back-to-school event for children who live in one of the deadliest neighborhoods in Chicago.
Organizers handed out backpacks, popcorn and cotton candy as kids jumped in bouncy houses and danced to local rappers on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
As things were winding down, a red car passed and the small gathering of families was sprayed by bullets. Kids and parents tripped over each as they ran for cover. An 11-year-old boy, his 14-year-old step-sister and one of the rappers were hit.
"They just started shooting and there was just a whole bunch of bullets," said the 14-year-old, Ayonna Fleming Peterson. "I knew I got hit in the ankle and my first thing, I panicked, I was looking around, looking around for my brother and then I noticed I was hit in my leg too."
Lamar Peterson said his children are recovering, but that hasn’t dimmed his anger. "They are all traumatized," he said. "We were just there to spread some love to the community."
The attack was part of Labor Day weekend violence that punctuated the end of summer in a year that has already seen more shootings than all of 2019.
At least 67 people were shot over the long holiday, including eight children. One of them, a 4-year-old boy named Mychal Moultry Jr., was killed when bullets smashed through a window and hit him in the head as he was getting his hair braided.
For the year, there have been more than 3,100 shooting victims and more than 500 of them have died, according to the city’s most recent data. That’s up from 2,849 shooting victims this time last year and 1,838 this time in 2019. The number for all of 2019 was 2,664.
The worst recent year for gun violence in Chicago was 2016, when there were more than 4,300 shooting victims and more 762 murders – the highest death toll since the mid-1990s.
This year has been particularly deadly for children 15 and younger. The Sun-Times reported in early summer that children were dying from gun violence at a rate three times higher than last year.
The pace continued through the summer, according to a Sun-Times analysis. At least 16 children 15 and younger – 11 boys and five girls – have been shot and killed.
Sun-Times data also shows that city efforts to reduce gun violence in the deadliest neighborhoods have fallen short.
Only five of 15 targeted communities on the West and South sides have seen fewer homicides than this time last year, and only three have had fewer shootings, according to a Sun-Times analysis.
Over the holiday weekend, Mayor Lori Lightfoot promised a new initiative against gang violence but did not disclose any details. However, she promised "there should be no gang member in Chicago who has a comfortable night sleep."
Peterson said his intentions Saturday was to do some good and maybe keep kids out of harm’s way. He has hosted at least four backpack giveaways this year in neighborhoods on the South and West sides.
"I was strictly there to bring joy to the community," said Peterson, who also DJed the event.
The event was held from noon until 3 p.m. Saturday at a gas station parking lot in the 2900 block of West Fulton. Peterson said it was going so well that rapper VT Badboy’ decided to stick around for the kids.
The gunmen in the red car passed by about half an hour later.
"It went from kids jumping with popcorn and moms taking pictures of their kids to fully automatic weapons being fired," Peterson said. "The kids ran and they tripped over each other and the parents were crawling over the kids — everyone was just running, screaming."
Peterson’s daughter and stepson were sitting on a go-cart when she was shot in the calf and ankle and he suffered a graze wound to his hip.
"I was passing out popcorn and cotton candy and we started to clean up and I sat down in the go-cart," Ayonna said. "I got to the car. ‘Daddy I got shot, Daddy I got shot.’ Hopped in the car, both my brothers got in the car and we just rushed to the hospital."
Both children were treated at Rush University Medical Center and have since been released. "I’m doing a little bit better, there’s times when my leg hurts," Ayonna said.
The rapper, 25, was shot multiple times and was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital in good condition, police said.
Less than hour before the shooting, the rapper posted a video to his Facebook page of him jumping in a bouncy house with a group of kids. The caption read, "This who I do it for."