Peoria officials make plea to parents and community to get involved following wave of deadly shootings
Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria shared new details at a news conference Thursday afternoon on the three separate shooting incidents across the city between Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
At this point, Echevarria said, police do not believe Wednesday night’s shooting around 9 p.m. in the 2200 block of West Marquette Ave. is related to the others.
The incident injured six, all males, including four juveniles and two adults. Injuries include five gunshot wounds and a laceration. Two of those injured are in critical condition.
“One is an adult and one is a juvenile and are still being treated" at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, Echevarria said.
The next shooting happened around 9 a.m. Thursday in the 2100 block of West Antoinette. One man was injured and a second man died. Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood identified the victim as 23-year-old Billy Chaplin of Peoria.
The next shooting happened less than an hour later on the 800 block of South Helen Street, leaving one man dead. Harwood identified that victim as 19-year-old Damar Watts of Peoria. Harwood said Watts died at the scene.
Ecehvarria said police think these two shootings are connected. He didn't elaborate on the reasons for that belief, but he stressed they are not gang-related.
“The community needs to know that all these shootings are not gang related, but rather targeted and isolated between groups of individuals having conflict with each other,” Echevarria said. “I realized that we have had a sudden surge of violence and I want to reassure the public that you will see a more visible presence of officers in and around the neighborhoods where the violence is occurring.”
The increased police presence will include assistance from the Illinois State Police.
Echevarria said there was one adult arrested Thursday morning in connection with the shootings and multiple vehicles were seized. When pressed for details, he wouldn’t provide any further information.
“There's some things we need to hold close,” he said. “But it's related to these shootings.”
There’s no additional suspect information available in relation to any of the shootings.
After sharing the new information, Echevarria made a plea to Peoria’s parents.
“Know where your children are, and who they are with. I also ask parents to not contribute to the delinquency of your minors by supporting or encouraging bad behavior,” he said. “We are losing too many young lives and we need your help.”
Peoria Mayor Rita Ali made a similar request, asking for a stop to the violence and citing her own history on the city's South Side.
“I grew up on the South Side of Peoria. My family still lives there,” she said. “My mother, my brother, my nieces and nephews and lifelong friends. These violent acts are personal to me.”
Thursday also saw fear and uncertainty spill over into Peoria’s schools, with rumors about retaliatory shootings circulating on social media. In response, Peoria Public Schools canceled after-school activities at several schools.
“If there's some fears, and their concerns, rightfully so, parents are hearing and seeing these things. They don't know what is accurate,” Echevarria said.
The shootings come on the heels of a violent few weeks in Peoria, with two other homicides within the last five days. Echevarria and Ali both made calls for unity and commitment to decreasing gun violence from community partners. But they also stressed any efforts will have to include participation from the city’s parents.
“The community has to protect itself as well, of course, the police, there's many different new initiatives that have been put in place by the police chief and his team,” Ali said. “We've got to help again, we've got to help by providing information, we've got to help by helping to protect our neighbors and our children.”
Ali and Echevarria both took multiple opportunities to encourage anyone with information about the shootings to come forward to the department, or submit a tip anonymously through the Tip 411 platform.
Both also talked about addressing “root causes” of violence. When questioned on whether or not this should include more community resources, Echevarria said the city is flush with them.
“Adults need to start taking responsibility. Parents need to start taking responsibility, and we can't force that until it hits them on their doorstep,” Echevarria said. “Maybe that's what it's going to take. We don't want that to happen. Take responsibility now before some other catastrophe happens.”
The block of Marquette where Wednesday night’s shooting occurred has received some of those resources. Peoria’s Safety Network began door knocking and assessing the needs of families there over the last few months.
However, Ali claims, Wednesday’s shooting does not mean those strategies aren’t working.
“It's a process. It's a process,” she said. “And we're going to continue to nurture those relationships.”
Some of the programs aimed at building relationships, like Cure Violence Initiative sitesin the East Bluff and South Side, have run into roadblocks. The Peoria City/County Health Department recently extended the deadline for a community partner organization for the South Side location to Sept. 26. This is the second time the deadline has been extended.
“Hopefully we'll get an organization in place and be able to implement Cure Violence for the South Side, beginning in January of next year,” Ali said. “Hopefully, we'll get an organization in place to be able to implement Cure Violence for the East Bluff.”
In the meantime, she said, personal accountability and sharing information is the best way to protect communities.
Echevarria also wants the community to avoid conflating those causing the violence with all of those living in a neighborhood.
“Whether we have one house or two houses or a small group of people that are causing a problem in that area,” Echevarria said. “It is not that whole neighborhood.”
Before the news conference ended, Denise Jackson took the stand to share a few words. Jackson is the council representative for the First District, where all three shootings took place.
“We just want you to have enough respect and value for human life, to not make decisions that you will regret in the future,” she said. “Because as we all know, from previous incidents, there are never any winners in situations like this. Never any winners.”
The story surrounding these shootings is continually developing and WCBU will continue to update them as more information becomes available.