September 29, 2009 in Nation/World

Chicago grapples with killings

Honor student’s fatal beating is latest such teen death in city
Karen Hawkins Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Katrina Flanagan signs a poster outside Fenger High School in Chicago on Monday. A vigil for Derrion Albert was held outside the school Monday, the same day prosecutors charged four teenagers with fatally beating Albert.
(Full-size photo)

CHICAGO – Cell phone footage showing a group of teens kicking a 16-year-old honors student and striking him with splintered railroad ties has ramped up pressure on Chicago officials to address chronic violence that has led to dozens of deaths of city teens each year.

The graphic video of the melee emerged on local news stations over the weekend, showing the fatal beating of Derrion Albert, a sophomore honor roll student at Christian Fenger Academy High School. His death was the latest addition to a rising toll: More than 30 students were killed last school year, and the city could exceed that number this year.

Prosecutors charged four teens Monday with fatally beating Albert, who was walking to a bus stop when he got caught up in the mob street fighting, authorities said.

The violence stemmed from a shooting early Thursday morning involving two groups of students from different neighborhoods, said Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the Cook County prosecutor’s office. When school ended, members of the groups began fighting.

During the attack, captured in part on a bystander’s cell phone video, Albert is struck on the head by one of several young men wielding wooden planks. After he falls to the ground and tries to get up, he is struck again and then kicked. Simonton said Albert was a bystander and not part of either group.

Prosecutors charged Silvonus Shannon, 19, Eugene Riley, 18, Eric Carson, 16, and Eugene Bailey, 18, with first-degree murder, Simonton said.

Shannon, Riley and Carson were ordered held without bond Monday. Bailey was due in bond court today, Simonton said.

Fenger students said Albert’s death intensified tensions at the school, with arguments about him breaking out in hallways all day Monday. Several blocks away, a memorial erected on the spot where he was beaten was burned down. Police increased patrols before and after school and in the neighborhood.

“They’re still trying to retaliate,” said Toni Gardner, 15.

For Chicago, a sharp rise in violent student deaths over the past three school years – most from shootings off school property – have been a tragedy and an embarrassment.

Before 2006, an average of 10 to 15 students were fatally shot each year. That climbed to 24 fatal shootings in the 2006-’07 school year, 23 deaths and 211 shootings in the 2007-’08 school year and 34 deaths and 290 shootings last school year.

At a vigil at the school on Monday, some community members said the solution lies with parents.

“It is our problem. We have to take control of our children,” said Dawn Allen, who attended a vigil at the school Monday.

This month, the city announced a $30 million project that targets 1,200 high school pupils identified as most at risk to become victims of gun violence, giving them full-time mentors and part-time jobs to keep them off the streets. Some money also will pay for more security guards and to provide safe passage for students forced to travel through areas with active street gangs.

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