CHICAGO - Annett Barajas had withdrawn money from a Fifth Third Bank on Saturday afternoon about an hour before an 8-year-old girl was gunned down near the entrance of the Little Village branch.
"Honestly, there’s no words because I don’t know what I would have done if this was my daughter," Barajas, a mother of two, said Sunday afternoon at a rally demanding justice for Melissa Ortega, who was fatally shot a day before. "I would go crazy because I protect my kids with my own [life]."
Barajas’ own 8-year-old daughter struggled with the tragedy that unfolded. She said most kids her age simply "want to spend time with your family… and you just want to have fun in your life."
"It makes me sad because what if it was me?" the young girl said through tears as her mother comforted her.
Barajas’ daughter said she is scared; her mother is, too.
"It could have been her," Barajas said.
Melissa and her mother recently moved to Chicago from Mexico to "build their American Dream," according to an online fundraiser for the family. But Melissa died Saturday after she was fatally struck on a sidewalk in Little Village.
Melissa was walking with her mother when a gunman emerged from a nearby alley and opened fire, unleashing a hail of bullets that fatally struck the 8-year-old girl twice in the head and wounded a gang member who was the intended target, a police report shows.
About 2:55 p.m. Saturday, Melissa and her mother were walking east on 26th Street near Pulaski Road when the gunfire erupted, according to the internal report obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.
After reviewing surveillance video, investigators determined that a male dressed in all black had stepped out of an alley near 26th Street and Komensky Avenue before firing at a 26-year-old man who was identified in the report as a member of the Gangster Two Six street gang. As the man started running east on 26th Street, the shooter continued to unload, according to the report.
A police source said the motivation of the shooting is still unclear but noted the victim’s gang has been feuding with both the Latin Saints and Latin Kings.
When the shots rang out, Melissa’s mother recalled running toward a bank when she felt her daughter "go limp," according to the report. That’s when she realized Melissa had been shot twice in the right side of her head.
After officers responded to a ShotSpotter alert and found Melissa at the corner of 26th and Pulaski, paramedics responded and brought her to Stroger Hospital, where she was pronounced dead less than two hours later, according to the report and an official statement from Chicago police.
The intended target, who has been arrested 13 times and convicted of two felonies, was struck twice in the back, the report states. He was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital in critical condition, police said.
The shooter ran south on Komensky Avenue, according to the report.
At the scene, investigators found over 13 9mm shell casings, one fired bullet and two bullet fragments, the report states. They also obtained video footage from a police POD camera and a private camera.
A crowd of more than 100 people gathered Sunday afternoon near a growing memorial for Melissa consisting of teddy bears, flowers, candles and balloons at the site of the shooting to demand justice for the young girl and her family.
"You’re not being a snitch. You’re helping," said Elizabeth Ramirez, co-founder of Parents of Peace and Justice, who encouraged anyone with information to come forward. "Just picture yourself standing where we’re standing. Wouldn’t you want someone to say something?"
Melissa was a student at Zapata Academy in the neighborhood, the Chicago Teachers Union said.
"This suffering is becoming too familiar for our babies and their families, who our educators love, nurture and support," the union wrote in a post on Twitter. "Wishing Melissa’s family and Zapata community peace and healing tonight."
A GoFundMe page had raised more than $40,000 by Monday morning with a $20,000 goal to help Melissa’s family pay for funeral expenses and bury her in her hometown in Mexico.
Melissa’s family could not immediately be reached.
"They were both excited to start a new life in Chicago and build their American Dream. I was honored to have met Melissa and will always remember her beautiful smile," the page’s organizer wrote.
Chicago Police Supt. David Brown released a statement Sunday morning on Twitter, calling the fatal shooting an "unthinkable tragedy."
"The tragic and senseless murder of 8-year-old Melissa has shaken our city," Brown wrote on Twitter. "There are no words of comfort when a child’s life is cut short. There are no words that can describe the grief of a family. CPD will not rest until the perpetrators are brought to justice.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot also posted to Twitter on Sunday, calling on people with information to come forward to police and not take matters into their own hands.
"Do not compound one tragedy with a series of others," the mayor wrote. "In this time of grief, promote peace, not more violence."
Rep. Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, a resident of Little Village, in a statement Sunday called the child’s death "a senseless, heartbreaking casualty of the gun violence that plagues our Little Village community. … How many children must we lose before we change course?"
There is a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to arrest in the case and up to $15,000 for a conviction, according to Lightfoot and Brown.