16-year-old charged in Chatham triple homicide, authorities worry of violent youth crime

A 16-year-old Grand Crossing teen is accused of fatally shooting three friends and wounding a fourth last month during an apparent armed robbery of a firearm from one of the friends’ homes, prosecutors alleged Thursday.

Antonio Velasco, who was arrested Tuesday in south suburban Hazel Crest, was charged as an adult with three counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office announced Thursday.

The charges were in connection to a Feb. 25 shooting that occurred inside a home in the 8000 block of South Vincennes Avenue. The shooting happened about 7:30 p.m., authorities said.

Following a morning news conference where police and prosecutors announced murder charges, Cook County Judge Kelly Marie McCarthy approved a request to hold Velasco pending trial during a detention hearing.

Velasco is accused of opening fire on four friends inside the home, killing Amere Deese, 14; Ladeverett West-Ringgold, a 20-year-old resident of the home and Randy Graham, 36. A fourth victim survived a gunshot wound and later identified Velasco as the shooter, authorities said.

In a court proffer, prosecutors recounted a mostly peaceful afternoon at the Vincennes home among the four victims before and after Velasco’s arrival at the home with a 13-year-old friend around 5 p.m. Velasco and the 13-year-old weren’t related, but grew up together and regarded one another as brothers, Assistant State’s Attorney Anne McCord Rodgers explained in court.

Before Velasco’s arrival, the friends played with an unspecified rifle, but it was eventually placed on the floor behind a television in the bedroom, according to Rodgers.

Prosecutors said four victims hung out and smoked marijuana with Velasco and his friend, with no signs of trouble or enmity during the two-and-a-half hours the group gathered in Ringgold’s bedroom.

Just after 7:30 p.m., Velasco allegedly left the home briefly, returning with a handgun equipped with an extended magazine, authorities said.

Velasco allegedly told the group to give up the gun and Velasco’s friend took the rifle, prosecutors said. Then Velasco opened fire on all four victims. At least three witnesses inside the home at the time said they saw the 13-year-old hand Velasco the rifle in the home’s hallway before they both left. Neither gun was ever recovered, authorities said.

Following the announcement of charges, Amere’s grandmother Cynthia Jones said she was relieved to hear of Velasco’s arrest, but said she felt angry and confused over his role in Amere’s death. “This is somebody that Amere looked up to as a big brother,” she said. “I have no idea what could have happened to cause this young man to want to do what he did.”

The boys had met shortly before Amere’s mom died about two years ago, and were close enough to share clothes and shoes, Jones said. Amere had visited Velasco’s Grand Crossing home before, though Jones said she didn’t know when he’d last been there. Following her grandson’s funeral last week, Jones said. Now she is “trying to wrap my heart around (the fact that) he’s no longer here.”

“This is changing everyone’s life, not just my family’s but the other families that were involved, including the family of the young man (arrested),” she said. “None of us were expecting to bury our babies.”

At a news briefing at CPD headquarters Thursday morning, authorities said that Velasco was “welcomed inside the house as an acquaintance of a young man who was friends with the family who lived there,” according to Antoinette Ursitti, police chief of detectives. The shooting followed an “altercation” between the people in the room, she added.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who joined police officials at the news conference, offered her condolences to the families of those affected by the shooting: “Your lives have been forever changed and altered by this tragedy — of what should have been a young boy, who acted as though a man, and will suffer the consequences as an adult.”

“If we don’t hold these young people accountable when they are committing violent crimes, one or two things are going to happen,” police Superintendent Larry Snelling warned during the news conference. “They’re going to continue to commit those violent crimes and eventually become a statistic themselves … or they’re going to end up in prison.”

Surrounded by detectives who worked the case, Ald. William Hall, 6th, stressed the importance of building communities to help mitigate violence, bolstering parks and schools ahead of the traditionally more violent summer months. “So I’m calling everyone before it gets hot, before the summertime comes, what block are you building?” he asked.

The triple homicide occurred during a violent weekend and occurred hours after two men shot at a group in a park in the Rogers Park neighborhood the same day, killing one and injuring three others.

Detectives said they are following up on a second “person of interest” involved in the shooting. Velasco is scheduled to return to court April 9.

Chicago Tribune’s Caroline Kubzansky, Adriana Perez and Kate Armanini contributed.