Update: On Friday, authorities announced a man has been arrested and charged in connection to the deadly Juneteenth shooting. Latest update here.
WILLOWBROOK, Ill. — “I just want answers.”
It was a simple plea from the fiancée of the man killed in a mass shooting in unincorporated Willowbrook in June to members of the DuPage County Board at a recent meeting.
“I’ve never seen a mass shooting of such caliber take so long to get answers,” Ashley Miller said through tears.
More than 20 people were shot when gunfire erupted in a crowd of several hundred people marking the Juneteenth holiday in a strip mall parking lot. Three-and-a-half months later no one has been arrested or charged and the investigation appears stalled.
The DuPage County Sheriff originally fought to keep all records from that night secret saying releasing them could harm the investigation. After WGN Investigates appealed to the Illinois Attorney General, the sheriff relented releasing early reports from the scene.
WHY DID DEPUTIES LEAVE JUST BEFORE SHOOTING?
At least two sheriff’s deputies were monitoring the crowd just after midnight; but dispatch records show they were called to respond to reports of a fight in a nearby apartment building.
“Caller can hear people screaming,” a dispatcher said. “One female saying ‘Let me go.’”
The deputies responded by saying they were close enough they could walk to the building.
Two-and-a-half minutes later deputies reported hearing shots.
“We got gunfire at HLC Plaza,” one officer radioed to dispatch as they ran back to the strip mall parking lot.
Police reports from that night quote officers describing a chaotic scene.
“Gunfire continued for just over 20 seconds,” one deputy wrote. “Screaming could be heard from the large crowd. People began running in all directions and vehicles were speeding from the scene.”
EARLY WARNING OF TROUBLE?
The DuPage County sheriff’s office only released records beginning three minutes before the shooting so it’s not known how many calls were received about the growing crowd earlier in the night. WGN Investigates’ request under the Freedom of Information Act specified complaints from earlier in the evening as well. Sheriff Jim Mendrick’s spokesperson did not respond when asked to explain why earlier records were not released.
WHAT STARTED IT? ANY SUSPECTS?
The reports indicate a fight broke out among several women in the minutes before the shooting began. It’s not known if that altercation led to gunfire. An injured person described seeing three potential suspects just before the shooting started. The gunshot victim told officers the three – possibly juveniles – were short and “looked suspicious” because all three were “wearing black colored ski masks and holding their waistband.”
It’s unclear if police were able to identify the three and rule them in or out as suspects.
The reports also say at least one gunshot victim refused to cooperate with officers at the hospital. Another shooting victim had a gun on him that police took into evidence. Reports say that person had a valid concealed carry permit.
The released records don’t say if the weapon had been fired.
In the early hours of the investigation, the suburban Metropolitan Emergency Response and Investigative Team (MERIT) was called in. It’s a group made up of expert investigators from departments through-out the county specially trained to handle complex cases. However, a source say the task force was soon shut-out with the sheriff choosing to have his own detectives handle the investigation. The sheriff’s office says it has received assistance from Illinois State Police.
ELECTED OFFICIALS REACT:
“We share the frustration and the fact there have been no resolutions to this and continue to encourage the sheriff’s office to make that happen,” DuPage Board Chair Deborah Conroy (D) told Ashley Miller after she made her appeal for answers at the public meeting.
Then the board moved on to other business.
Sheriff Jim Mendrick has not spoken to the media about the largest mass shooting to occur in his county. Instead, he has relied on a few press releases that underscore the complex nature of the investigation and request the public’s patience.
“We understand and empathize with the media and public in their desire for more information, but to do so at this time will compromise our ability to bring these offenders to justice. This is the only reason certain information is being withheld from the public,” a June 26 press release stated.
Several DuPage County elected officials have privately criticized Mendrick’s handling of the case; but declined interview requests.
“I just want to know what’s the reason of my brother bring killed? There’s no information,” Reggie Meadows’ brother Darren told WGN Investigates in July.