Chicago police said Monday they have "very strong leads" in the shooting death of an 8-year-old girl in the city's Little Village neighborhood over the weekend.
While declining to offer many specifics, Chicago Police Supt. David Brown said the department has multiple people cooperating in their investigation into the fatal shooting of Melissa Ortega Saturday. He noted, however, that the investigation remains "delicate."
"We don't want to put out any information that would jeopardize bringing this offender to justice as quickly as we can so we're going to withhold verifying any evidence of this at this point, but we hope to soon come to you with some resolution to this investigation," Brown said during a press conference Monday.
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 say 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 had yet to make any arrests in connection with the young girl's fatal shooting as of Monday, but Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot echoed that the department had "promising leads" in the case.
“I can’t get into a lot of details. But I can tell you … that there are some promising leads. And I hope that we’ll have a more substantive announcement soon,” she said at an unrelated event Monday.
Police are now offering 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 plans to "saturate the area" in the coming days and weeks "to vigorously address the gang conflict that caused Melissa's death," McDermott said.