Chicago authorities on Wednesday announced a 16-year-old was among two people charged in connection with the fatal shooting of an 8-year-old girl in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood after the child was gunned down during a shootout that began near where she was walking with her mother on the sidewalk.
Chicago Police Supt. David Brown announced the alleged teenage gunman was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and two felony counts of aggravated discharge of a firearm in an occupied vehicle.
A 27-year-old man accused of being the getaway driver was also charged.
"This morning, I spoke with Melissa's mother in her home, not only to check in on her during this especially tough time, but to also let her know that we found the offenders responsible for taking Melissa's life," Brown said during a press conference announcing the development in the case.
The update comes just two days after Chicago police said they had "very strong leads" in Melissa's killing.
While declining to offer many specifics, Brown said the department had multiple people cooperating in their investigation.
"Melissa was a precious little girl and it is unacceptable that she is the latest Chicagoan to fall victim to senseless, senseless gang violence," Brown said. "As a city, we mourn. We mourn her loss because no Chicago child should know violence, and no parent should have to endure something like this. We will forever remember Melissa and that she loved to dance. She was a light to her family and we speak her name because she represented the innocence and potential of every child in Chicago. And what happened to Melissa shouldn't happen to anyone, anywhere."
Melissa and her mother were walking at approximately 2:45 p.m. Saturday in the 4000 block of West 26th Street near Pulaski Road when shots were fired, according to Chicago police.
"Known offenders" shot a 26-year-old man who was leaving a store, the suspects' intended target, authorities stated. However, they also fired a bullet that struck Melissa in the head, police said.
"It's just unspeakable to lose the life of an 8-year-old, a little girl, under these tragic circumstances or any circumstances for that matter and we owe it to Melissa and her family and to this city to hold every person involved accountable," Brown said. "And we must seek justice for every Chicagoan living under the threat of gun violence every day. There are just no words when something like this happens, being so senseless and tragic, let alone to our children."
Community leaders said Melissa was in third grade at Emiliano Zapata Academy and her family had just moved to Chicago in August in pursuit of the American dream.
"This family… someone decided to take her life away with one bullet only," one activist said.
In a statement, Melissa's family said she had immigrated to the U.S. six months ago, but had only arrived in Chicago three months prior to the shooting to be near family.
"Like many immigrants, Melissa hoped for a better life here: she wanted to learn English, she wanted to experience Chicago snow, she wanted to get a build-a-bear, she wanted to make Tik Tok dances with her friends," the family's statement read. "At age 8, she was a girl full of hope and had her whole life ahead of her. She sought to achieve the American Dream but was instead given American Violence."
Just days earlier, five kids all under the age of 17, were shot on one single day.
"We cannot allow this to become normal," said Ald. Raymond Lopez of the city's 15th Ward. "And we cannot let Melissa become another name in a long list of children’s who’s lives were cut short by this endless parade of gang violence in the city of Chicago."
Police offered a $15,000 reward and have set up a tip hotline in connection with the case, asking anyone with information to call an anonymous tip line at (833) 408-0069.
"Any and all tips leading to either a conviction or an arrest will receive up to a $15,000 reward," Brown said. "We have to work together to make change."
Chief of Patrol Brian McDermott said the case should make "everybody as sick to their stomach as I am."
"I can assure you that all CPD take this as personally as I do," he said, adding that the department will "spare no expense."
The department said Monday it planned to "saturate the area" in the coming days and weeks "to vigorously address the gang conflict that caused Melissa's death."