A pair of shootings overnight Wednesday brought to two dozen the number of victims in the city in the last two weeks – a figure that elevates the amount of recent gun violence to a possibly unprecedented level.
The tally, compiled by the Journal Star and confirmed by the Peoria Police Department, includes the public suicide of Bernell Alexander last week in South Peoria, but not the slaying of his ex-wife in Creve Coeur just minutes before he took his own life.
The most recent victims included a man who was shot in the shoulder at 10:45 p.m. Wednesday in the 3400 block of Sunburst Lane in the Lexington Hills apartments and a man with a gunshot wound to the neck who was taken by private vehicle to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center at 3:13 a.m. Thursday. The second victim told police he was shot while he was a passenger in a vehicle driving through Harrison Homes.
The second shooting marked the 24th victim of gunfire since June 16, when a pair of afternoon shootings kicked off a 12-hour spree of violence that resulted in one fatality and five other people being wounded, including two children who were sleeping on the floor of their North Valley home.
Just a few days later, six people – all teens between the ages of 16 and 19 – were shot during two incidents less than a couple of hours apart.
Several days with multiple shootings and the city’s 15th and most recent homicide have since transpired, leading Lt. Vince Wieland of the Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division to label the period the worst in terms of local gun violence in decades.
“I haven’t seen two weeks like this in my 23 years,” Wieland said Thursday. “I can’t remember two weeks that have been this packed with such a number of violent acts.”
Compared to last year, however, the number of shootings so far this year does not appear to be abnormally high. Through June 22, the city had recorded 58 shootings, compared to 45 over the same time period last year.
“When we’re looking back to June 22, there isn’t that much of an increase, it’s just how it’s coming – it’s coming in bunches,” Wieland said. “It’s getting everyone’s attention because there’s been so many so quickly.”
Several of the shootings appear to be connected and gang-related, and the police have responded in part by temporarily reassigning an officer to a gang intelligence position that was cut at the beginning of the year to ease a $14.5 million citywide deficit.
Wieland called that position critical for investigations of shootings and a better way for the police to keep tabs on what’s happening on the streets. So far, the gang violence appears to have been generated by people and groups familiar to investigators, though some ground was lost when the gang intelligence position was vacant.
“We did lose some vital information that we were tracking,” Wieland said.
Though the recent spike in gun violence has caught the attention of authorities and onlookers for its unusual frequency, it remains, to a certain extent, part of a pattern that repeats every year.
Elaine Frye, executive director of emergency medical services at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, acknowledges the unusually large cluster of shootings in the last two weeks but also notes that more victims of violence tend to visit the level-one trauma center as temperatures rise.
“There is a seasonality to it – when the weather is nicer, more people are outside and roaming,” she said. “We see it every year. When the weather breaks, we see more stabbings, shootings and violence.”
The recent level of violence, she said, has not affected emergency operations at the hospital
A 17-year-old Manual student was beaten and sexually assaulted in an alley near Manual High School on Monday afternoon.
The victim told police she was approached by two men in an alley about 3:50 p.m. Monday while walking home in the 2100 block of West Lincoln Avenue.
She was struck in the face and forced to the ground behind an unattached garage in the 2100 block of South Lincoln Avenue, where she was repeatedly struck and then sexually assaulted by one man as the other man watched, police said.
The man who lives at the house behind which the crime occurred said he was home at the time but didn’t hear or see anything because he was watching TV in the front room of his house. But shortly after the assault, the man, who asked that his name not be used, saw signs of a struggle behind his garage, he said.
“There was fresh snow on the ground, and you could see where someone had been wrestled down in the snow,” he said.
One suspect was described as a black male, approximately 5-foot-7 with an average build. He was wearing a black coat and a blue ski mask over his face and smelled as if he had been drinking alcohol, police said. The victim could not describe the other man, who she said did not participate in the assault.
But because the assault took place near Manual High School and Tyng Primary School shortly after they let out for the day, police urged parents to be mindful of their children’s whereabouts after school and for students to walk home in groups and stay on main streets and thoroughfares.
One couple who lives in the 2100 block of Lincoln said their two daughters, ages 13 and 14, walk to and from Trewynn Middle School every day. However, the couple, who asked that their names not be used, said they will drive their daughters from now on, given Monday’s incident, which happened just yards from their home.
“It scares me to death that this happened in broad daylight,” said the mother of the two girls. “They won’t be walking anywhere anymore.”
Except that a second suspect was involved, Monday’s attack was reminiscent of the sexual assault a year ago of a 16-year-old girl on her way to school.
Monterius Hinkle was convicted of that assault in November and sentenced to 26 years in prison. Hinkle came up behind his victim, put her in a choke hold and dragged her through an alley and a yard before taking her to his 2805 W. Malone St. house, where he sexually assaulted her.
Hinkle is alleged to have committed two other sexual assaults on young victims around West Malone Avenue, also just blocks away from Manual High School.
Anyone with information regarding Monday’s assault is urged to contact the Peoria Police Department at 673-4521 or Crime Stoppers at 673-9000.