Chicago police say a beloved nurse who was shot and killed while walking in his scrubs in the city's Little Village neighborhood last month may have been targeted in the shooting in a case of mistaken identity.
"It's gang territory, it's a rival gang territory and it appears - once again it appears - that these individuals get in a car and they're like, 'We're gonna go target the rival gang,'" Chicago Police Deputy Chief Brendan Deenihan said. "And they just see somebody and they decide, 'Oh that looks like a rival gang member, we'll shoot him.' It's obviously not a rival gang member, so it's terrible."
Frank Aguilar, 32, was killed just before 11:30 p.m. on Nov. 12 as he walked in the 3700 block of West 32nd Street. That's when police say someone in a gray SUV nearby opened fire, striking him in the chest.
He was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
Armando Lopez, 19, was charged with one count of first degree murder Wednesday in connection with the death , according to police. A judge ordered Lopez held without bond in his first court appearance Thursday morning.
Calling Aguilar's death a "senseless murder," Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tweeted Wednesday that the Little Village community "stepped up in a big way to help secure these charges."
Deenihan said at a news conference announcing the charges Thursday that the shooting had no witnesses and very little evidence - just two shell casings on the ground - which made for a difficult and "pain-staking" investigation.
Deenihan said detectives were able to locate private video that captured the shooting, showing a vehicle driving past, shooting Aguilar and then fleeing the scene.
From that, investigators were able to identify the make and model of the vehicle, police said. They then worked with members of the department's organized crime unit and others familiar with gangs in the area to look for the car, a Jeep Commander, in rival gang territory.
On Nov. 15, police said officers spotted the Jeep wanted in connection with the shooting in the 2300 block of South Sawyer Avenue and began to pursue it.
A few minutes later, Illinois State Police saw the car in the southbound lanes of Interstate 94 at 47th Street. During the pursuit, the vehicle crashed into another car near the intersection of 75th Street and Lafayette Avenue, officials said.
Lopez was one of two people taken into custody after the chase, one block away from the crash. In that incident, he was charged with aggravated fleeing, attempting to elude police and driving on a revoked license, both misdemeanors, and three traffic violations, Chicago police said. The passenger was released and not charged, officials said.
Deenihan said Thursday that police believed Lopez was the driver of the Jeep during the shooting and that they were still searching for the gunman.
"Without compromising the investigation, the detectives feel very strongly they know who the shooter is and they're just working with the state's attorney office to get as much evidence as possible to try and secure that charge," Deenihan said.
He added that Lopez was not cooperating with the investigation and had not offered a narrative for the shooting, but that detectives believed it stemmed from gang rivalry in the area.
Aguilar was a nurse at Misericordia Heart of Mercy home, his family said, hired in March to a job he had been seeking for years. His family said he was walking in his scrubs, carrying a laundry basket as well as a bag with snacks for his nieces and nephews, when he was gunned down.
“He was my biggest inspiration,” Aguilar’s niece April Barahona said. “He was everybody’s role model. He was there for everybody.”
“He was my lighthouse. My guide,” his uncle Joshua Alcazar said.
Staff at Misericordia described Aguilar as an “outstanding young man,” expressing shock after his death.
“Everyone liked working with him. He was kind and compassionate. He was so excited about his new role as a nurse. He will be deeply missed,” Misericordia administrator Denise Tigges said in a statement.
Police commended Little Village residents for coming forward with information that "proved vital" to the case.
"I promised Frankie's parents and the members of the community of Little Village that we would stop at nothing to find these offenders and that is exactly what has happened today," Chicago Police Capt. Gil Calderon said.