Two suspects in their early 20s were charged Monday night in the shooting last week at a park in Chicago's Back of the Yards neighborhood that left 13 injured, including a 3-year-old boy, Cook County prosecutors said.
The break in the case came as the youngest victim of the mass shooting was making a quick recovery, walking around his hospital room and even refusing to take off his brand-new blue Nikes when he sleeps.
About 8:20 p.m. Monday, a spokeswoman for the Cook County state's attorney's office announced the charges in a shooting that once again put Chicago in a national spotlight for runaway gun violence.
Bryon Champ, 21, and Kewane Gatewood, 20, both of Chicago, were charged with three counts each of attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm, said spokeswoman Sally Daly
A statement issued late Monday by Chicago police said both suspects "played significant roles" in the shooting but neither was believed to be the shooter.
"These charges are just the beginning, and this investigation remains ongoing at this time," Superintendent Garry McCarthy was quoted as saying.
A law enforcement source said Champ and Gatewood allegedly helped transport the weapon used in the shooting to the scene.
Another source said Thursday's shooting was in retaliation after one of the suspects had been grazed earlier in a gang conflict in Back of the Yards.
Police identified Champ as a convicted felon and a documented street gang member. He was convicted of unlawful use of a weapon by a felon in July 2012 and was sentenced to boot camp at the Cook County Department of Corrections.
Both suspects are scheduled to appear Tuesday in bond court at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, Daly said.
Earlier Monday, the mother of Deonta Howard told the Tribune that her 3-year-old son was expected to go home in a few days despite being shot in the cheek. His face and right eye remain swollen, but he is eager to leave Mount Sinai Children's Hospital, said Shamarah Leggett, 24.
Leggett said her son will later need reconstructive plastic surgery. He had been scheduled to start preschool Monday, she said in an interview outside the hospital.
"He just keep saying, 'Ma, they shot me, they shot me with a gun. You heard me, mama?' And I say, 'Yeah, I heard you.' But I just say, 'You OK. You a big boy. You a soldier.'"
At least one gunman armed with a "military grade" rifle opened fire by a basketball court at Cornell Square Park about 10:15 p.m. Thursday. Police said it was a miracle that none of the 13 victims were killed.
Shell casings found around the blood-soaked basketball court in the 1800 block of West 51st Street were of the kind typically ejected from AK-47 rifles. Though gun violence long has plagued the city's impoverished neighborhoods, offenders almost never use military-style weapons.
Police were believed to have been questioning at least two persons of interest in the shooting since Sunday night.
Leggett said she was with her son at the park as he played basketball Thursday night. As shots rang out, people fell to the ground, either to take cover or because they were hit, she said.
As Leggett looked up, she saw her son's face covered in blood.
"He wasn't crying," she recalled Monday. "And I said, 'Baby, be still because you got a big hole in your face.'"
Leggett said Deonta makes friends easily and likes to dance in addition to playing basketball.
"Yeah, he gotta be the boss," said the weary but smiling mother, who also has a 9-year-old son. "That's just him."
She fears now that he'll be too frightened to go to a park again.
"I don't think he ever gonna, you know, feel safe in a park," she said. "'Cause he always say he want to go to the park. He say, 'I don't wanna go on the baby swing, I wanna go on the big people swing.' … But since he been talking, he hasn't said anything about a park. He just wanna go home."
While she called her neighborhood tightknit, Leggett said the shooting has left her pondering a move to the suburbs so her sons can grow up in a more "peaceful" environment. Her brother, Jerome Howard, 21, was fatally shot in the Woodlawn neighborhood earlier this month, she said.
"Everybody that got shot (Thursday), we like a family. You know? We was all up at the park together. We either live next door to each other or downstairs from each other or you know across the alley or around the corner."
Deonta has started eating cereal and other solid foods again, said Curtis Harris, who is engaged to Deonta's grandmother and was himself wounded in the thigh in Thursday's shooting.
Earlier Monday, as police questioned suspects, residents who live near Cornell Square Park continued to raise concerns about the gang conflicts in the area.
Keeyana Keith, 24, said she was frightened for her two children, 5 and 6, as she and her brother walked them to Richard J. Daley Elementary Academy not far from the park in the morning.
"I hear gunshots, I know how to run," Keith said. "How do these kids know how to run from gunshots?"
Tribune reporters Rosemary Regina Sobol, Adam Sege and Carlos Sadovi contributed.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun