melissa ortega

Mother Recounts Final Moments With 8-Year-Old Daughter Before Fatal Shooting

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Melissa Ortega's mother recounted her final moments with her 8-year-old daughter, making a promise she said she never got to fulfill before her child's life was taken when a hail of gunfire erupted in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood as they walked down the street Saturday afternoon.

Araceli Ortega, in a statement read by her pastor during a press conference announcing charges against two people in connection with her daughter's murder, said she "lost my greatest treasure in life" that fateful day.

"She was the reason why I got up every morning. Everything I did, I did for her," the statement read. "We immigrated from Mexico six months ago. We were filled with dreams and had high aspirations. We imagined a better life here. We came in search of the American dream we so famously hear of, but instead I get to live a nightmare for the rest of my life."

In the moments before gunfire rang out, Melissa had asked her mom for a hamburger.

Araceli Ortega said she told her daughter "of course" and asked if she wanted it before or after they went to the bank. Melissa opted for later, saying, "I'm not that hungry right now, but you promise you'll buy it for me?"

"In that moment I promised her I would buy her that hamburger. However I couldn't. I wasn't able to fulfill that promise," her statement read. "My daughter stopped holding my hand and without explanation, I found her on the floor with a puddle of blood and a bullet to her head."

According to police, Melissa and her mother were walking in the 4000 block of West 26th Street at approximately 2:45 p.m. when a vehicle pulled up near the location. An assailant got out of the vehicle and began firing shots at a group of what police described as three rival gang members.

A 26-year-old man, one of the intended targets in the shooting, was also struck, according to police, but another bullet struck Melissa in the head, killing her.

Chicago police say that a 16-year-old, believed to be the gunman in the shooting, has been arrested and charged with first-degree murder. A 27-year-old man was also arrested in connection with the case, with police alleging that he served as the getaway driver in a shooting that had targeted rival gang members.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced that the teen suspect will be tried as an adult in the case. He faces felony counts of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder, along with two counts of aggravated assault with a firearm.

In her statement, Araceli Ortega said she forgives the alleged gunman.

"You were a victim too," she said. "As a 16-year-old, the community failed you, just like it failed my precious baby. Although, I do hope that in the many years you spend in prison, you get time to reflect on your actions because you took away the most valuable thing I had in my life. My princess Melissa."

The latest development in the case comes just two days after Chicago police said they had "very strong leads" in Melissa's killing. While declining to offer many specifics, Chicago Police Supt. David 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 was in third grade at Emiliano Zapata Academy and her family had just moved to Chicago in August in pursuit of the American dream.

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.

"This isn't a problem that just arose on Saturday, Sunday, a problem that just arose this year or even last," Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday. "It's a problem of long standing and it's way past time that we unite, we come together and we bring peace to this beautiful, vibrant community of Little Village."

Araceli Ortega thanked the community for the outpouring of support and called for her daughter's memory to be preserved.

"Don't let her die in vain," she said. "We should be filled with sadness, but anger as well. How is it possible that a little girl dies in broad daylight? How is it possible that we can send men to Mars but we can't fix the gun violence in our city? How is it possible?"

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