By Jeremy Gorner and Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas
Adriana Williams and her brother Michael stopped at a makeshift memorial on Sunday afternoon for a friend gunned down hours earlier on a street in Chicago’s Brighton Park neighborhood.
On Monday, a new memorial went up — this one for the two Williams siblings after they were killed and eight others wounded when two gunmen armed with rifles stepped from an alley and opened fire at mourners at the friend’s memorial.
The group had been celebrating the life of 26-year-old Daniel Cordova, who was shot and killed about 13 hours earlier, when the shots rang out.
“They were just coming to pay their respects,” said Willie Glover Jr., an older brother of Adriana, 27, and Michael, 24. “You expect people to respect that.”
Chicago’s worst mass shooting in almost four years comes amid conflict by as many as four Mexican gangs battling over turf in Brighton Park and neighboring Back of the Yards and less than a week after two plainclothes Chicago police officers — mistaken for rival gang members — were shot and wounded. Of particular concern to police is that in recent months the gangs have increasingly been using military-style weapons, including in the shooting of the two officers.
According to a law enforcement source, Chicago police are looking into whether rival gangs are trying to take advantage of the department’s crackdown on the La Raza street gang because of its involvement in the officers’ shooting. Police believe a rival gang, the Almighty Saints, was responsible for both shootings Sunday, the source said. Both Cordova and Michael Williams were affiliated with the Satan Disciples, police said.
Police are concerned about further bloodshed. In an alert broadcast Monday over police radio channels, officers were told to “use caution in Satan Disciple areas.” With the shooting of multiple gang members, “a heightened level of activity from Satan Disciples is expected,” the police alert warned.
The shootings led Ald. Raymond Lopez, whose 15th Ward covers Back of the Yards and Brighton Park, to pronounce Sunday that “no innocent lives were lost” in the afternoon shooting that killed the Williams siblings and wounded the eight others near 46th Place and Rockwell Street.
“If you are hanging out with people who are recruiting 12- and 13-year-olds to join gangs and sell drugs, then you are part of the problem in this community,” Lopez told a Tribune reporter. “We need to stop beating around the bush on this, and we need the people who live here to stand up and help us stop what’s going on.”
By Monday, police were providing the alderman a security detail after he had received death threats, according to the law enforcement source.
Lopez declined to comment on the report, telling the Tribune, “I was elected to defend my residents and will continue to do so.”
On Monday, the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, which offers after-school programs, violence prevention outreach and advocacy for immigration rights for the blue-collar, Latino neighborhood, sought to comfort students with the help of officials at Shields Elementary School and Shields Middle School, both located a few blocks from Sunday’s shootings.
“The kids are afraid,” said Patrick Brosnan, the council’s executive director. “They feel nervous to go outside. They are scared in their own neighborhoods.”
Just before 3 a.m. Sunday, with music blaring, Cordova posted a video to his Facebook page threatening the “opp” — short for opposition — and bragging about how he stays out on the street “day and night.” He taunted that he was sitting in a parked car alone, according to the video.
About an hour and a half later, police found his body between two parked cars at 46th Place and Rockwell Street. He had been shot in the chest.
Word of Cordova’s shooting spread on Facebook, and Lisa Vargas, who roomed with Adriana Williams, said Adriana was “freaking out” over the death.
“She was just like, ‘Nah, it wasn’t him. It can’t be him,'” Vargas said. “And I said, ‘Yeah, it was him.'”
As friends gathered at the memorial near where Cordova had been shot, police warned them they could be the targets of more gang gunfire. It wasn’t long afterward that the gunmen appeared.
Michael Williams died at the scene, and Adriana died at Stroger Hospital, officials said.
According to a Tribune analysis of its shooting database, the killing of two and wounding of eight others, including two women, marked the single worst shooting incident in Chicago since September 2013, when 13 people, including a 3-year-old boy, were shot in Cornell Square Park near 51st and Wood streets in Back of the Yards by two gunmen, one armed with an AK-47-style rifle.
“It hits hard,” said Vargas, noting one of her daughters was really close to Adriana Williams. “I was sitting here telling my daughter, ‘You could have been right there with her.’ Because she goes with her everywhere. She was always with her.”
As she talked Monday, friends set up a makeshift memorial for the Williamses in front of the two-story brick home in Little Village where Adriana lived. That’s where their friends tied yellow smiley-faced balloons on a wrought-iron fence across the sidewalk from the home.
They passed around a black marker and took turns scrawling messages on the balloons. “We Love You” and “R.I.P. Adriana.” They lit religious candles near a small pot of roses.
Glover, the Williams’ brother and the oldest of six siblings, said that he had moved out of Chicago about 15 years ago and that he and his siblings grew apart the way family sometimes does when everyone is grown and spread out.
He knew his family members lived in a tough neighborhood where gang violence was prevalent. But he didn’t believe his siblings were in a gang, though he acknowledged, “I know they live around a lot of gangs.”
Still, Glover never expected that two of his siblings would be gunned down, especially at a makeshift memorial for another homicide victim.
“The (guy) that got killed is close friends with my brother and sister,” he said. “You know, it wasn’t about who they are. It was more like just targeting anybody that was out there to gather for him. They trying to pay their respects, and they get murdered. That’s crazy.”
“They was real good people. They was very loved people. A lot of people really loved them,” he said.
Glover said his sister was a small woman whose size belied her strength and huge personality. She left behind three kids, who have recently been in the custody of the state, he said. She was trying to get her kids back, he said.
His brother showed aptitude for math and reading and made good grades in school, said Glover, who said Michael had two kids of his own.
“Michael, he was just always a good kid. He liked to play basketball. He liked to dress in real nice clothes,” Glover said. “When he was younger, I never thought him to be the type to be around this type of environment. He was just trying to be a good father to his kids.”
Police said both shootings Sunday were carried out by suspects armed with rifles.
In February, the Tribune reported that four Hispanic gangs in Brighton Park and Back of the Yards on the South Side were increasingly using rifles. Police said this area was the only one in the city where rifles styled after AR-15s and AK-47s were regularly used, a menacing new development in the gang fights.
At the time, more than 30 shootings believed to have been tied to semi-automatic rifles occurred in the two neighborhoods over the previous nine months. At least 46 people were shot in those attacks, 13 fatally.
As of Monday evening, no one was reported in custody for the Sunday shootings, but Deputy Police Chief Kevin Ryan told reporters Sunday night that investigators “have a fairly good idea who we’re looking for, we have a fairly good idea of the conflict involved and right now we’re trying to saturate the area.”
Vargas, the friend of both Williamses, said she found out about their killings when someone posted a video from the crime scene on Facebook Live.
“She’s on the ground, and they’re screaming, ‘Help her! Help her!'” she recalled.
Vargas said the last time she saw Michael Williams, who worked in a cookie factory, was earlier Sunday when he was at a Cinco de Mayo parade along Cermak Road in Little Village.
Another friend, Roselee Lopez, spoke of Michael Williams’ sense of humor.
“He loved to joke around,” said Lopez, clutching a bouquet of roses, tears streaming down her face. “Whether you had a good or bad day, he always tried to make you smile.”
Lopez said she, too, learned about the shooting from a Facebook Live video. She hopped on a CTA bus to head to the shooting scene.
“I kept on saying, ‘No, it’s not him. It’s not him. It can’t be him,'” she said. “I was just with him in the parade.
“But when I went over there and they uncovered him, that’s when I really knew.”
Chicago Tribune’s Tony Briscoe, John Byrne and Rosemary Regina Sobol contributed.