1 dead, 22 injured in shooting during Juneteenth celebration near Willowbrook
A Juneteenth celebration turned deadly early Sunday morning near Willowbrook.
What started as a peaceful gathering in a parking lot near Honeysuckle Lane and Route 83 around 6 p.m. Saturday ended in gunfire shortly after midnight Sunday morning. Authorities said 23 people were shot, one fatally, and several others were hurt trying to flee the area.
"An unknown number of suspects fired multiple rounds from multiple weapons into the crowd," authorities said in a news release from the DuPage County sheriff's office.
Investigators were interviewing "persons of interest" in connection to the shooting, sheriff's spokesman Robert Carroll said. As of 2 p.m., no arrests had been made or charges filed.
Authorities said deputies were in the area monitoring the gathering, which some witnesses said numbered in the hundreds at a strip mall parking lot. But the deputies were called away around 12:25 a.m. for a fight at another location. As they were responding to that call, they heard gunshots at the Juneteenth celebration and immediately returned.
"The motive behind this incident is unclear," Eric Swanson, deputy chief at the sheriff's office, said during a news conference Sunday morning. "We transported numerous victims from the scene. Others just walked into area hospitals."
Witness Markeshia Avery spoke to ABC 7 Chicago. "It was supposed to be like a Juneteenth celebration; we just started hearing shooting, so we dropped down until they stopped," she said. "They just kept going. After that, we literally scattered away."
The conditions of the wounded were not immediately available, officials said.
"We were all just out, and, next thing you know shots just kept going off; everybody ran, and it was chaos," witness Craig Lotcie said to ABC 7 Chicago.
Victims were taken to hospitals in DuPage, Cook and Will counties.
A police presence remained on the scene investigating Sunday afternoon, and debris could be seen scattered on the ground after the incident.
Bartosz Majerczyk and Daniel Hosek, who live nearby, say they heard a series of gunshots. Majerczyk said he heard more than 60 gunshots in a span of what seemed like 30 seconds.
"It sounded like two groups" shooting at each other, he said.
The two friends rushed to the area and saw people fleeing after the shooting stopped.
At least one nearby resident said he has complained to police about the large gatherings at the strip mall that happen annually around Juneteenth and July 4.
"We've had multiple conversations with police about this," said Rick Wagner, who lives in Burr Ridge in a neighborhood across Route 83 from the strip mall. "It wasn't like nobody knew what was happening or what the possibility was, but nobody did anything."
He said he spoke to DuPage County sheriff's deputies who were monitoring the strip mall at 10:30 p.m. Saturday. At that time, he said, about four squads were at the strip mall, where he estimated about 300 to 400 people had gathered.
"It was like cars everywhere," Wagner said, adding there was enough room for a single lane of cars to get through the lot.
When he asked deputies about the large gathering, he said deputies responded that there was nothing they could do other than monitor the situation.
President Joe Biden's press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, tweeted a statement on behalf of the president.
"The President and First Lady are thinking of those killed and injured in the shooting in Illinois last night," the tweet read. "We have reached out to offer assistance to state and local leaders in the wake of this tragedy at a community Juneteenth celebration."
U.S. Rep. Sean Casten also issued a statement saying he was heartbroken to hear about the shooting.
"We live in a tragic reality where you cannot go to school, go to the grocery store, go to your place of worship, or celebrate holidays like the Fourth of July or Juneteenth without fear of being shot," Casten said. "Change is needed - we cannot allow this to be the status quo."
The sheriff's office asks that anyone with information call (630) 407-2400.
• ABC 7 Chicago contributed to this report.