BB gun shots cause thousands in damage

More than a dozen windows vandalized in Oak Park, Forest Park

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

They're easy to overlook and often inconspicuous due to their size – typically about as big as a quarter – but the pockmarks left on windows from projectiles shot from a BB gun can cost thousands of dollars in damage.

It's not unheard of for business owners and residents to report damage caused by BB guns – they pop up every few months or so, often in short bursts of activity – but over the last few months, at least two dozen businesses, property owners and in one case a person, have been hit by BBs.

In Oak Park alone, there have been at least 13 incidents involving BB guns reported since mid-August. And, in Forest Park, as many as nine incidents involving BB guns have been reported in since June.

Property, primarily storefront windows and parked vehicles, have largely been the targets of the shootings, but on Oct. 31 at about 7 p.m., a Chicago resident was shot in the left cheek with a BB in 900 block of Mapleton Avenue. The perpetrators in that shooting were described as three or four people in a white and gray, four-door vehicle.

While nearly two dozen BB gun incidents between the two villages have been reported since August, the majority of the activity has taken place along Madison Street, according to police, and the frequency of such shootings is increasing. 

Nine of the 13 incidents reported to Oak Park police took place in October – and that's just of the businesses that have reported the shootings.

Several business owners along Madison Street were unaware their properties had been hit until they were informed by a reporter of BB holes in their windows.

The shooters have caused at the very least an estimated $7,050 in damage in Oak Park, but that number is likely much higher, because several of the police reports did not indicate an estimated loss due to the damage.

Sugar Beet Food Co-op, 812 Madison St., is among the worst hit because of the severity of the damage – one of the grocery store's windows was cracked by a BB shot a few weeks ago – and the repairs could cost as much as $5,000.

Chris Roland, general manager of the store, said in a telephone interview that the specialty glass is triple-paned and tinted blue for environmental sustainability. 

The glass, which "keeps the heat out in the summer and the cold out in the winter," according to Roland, helps the building maintain its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) status.

Gina Milkovich, education and outreach coordinator for Sugar Beet, said the shooting likely happened overnight, because employees did not notice the shattered glass until the morning. She said that shortly after the BB hole was noticed, Oak Park police, unsolicited, came to inform them about the shot. 

Oak Park Deputy Police Chief LaDon Reynolds said in a telephone interview that the spike in BB gun shootings is on the police department's radar, but catching the culprit is difficult.

He encouraged all businesses to report such shootings to help law enforcement in its effort to determine a pattern. 

"It's almost cliché at this point, but it really does the trick – if you see something, say something," he said.

Reynolds said it is not uncommon for the police to see a flurry of BB gun activity from time to time, but the recent number of shootings is unusual. 

"We've increased our patrols in those hours where [shootings] have occurred," he said, adding that "if business owners have cameras that face outside and can help in an investigation, we appreciate that as well."

Forest Park Police Chief Tom Aftanas echoed Reynolds' account of the slew of BB gun shootings in the area, noting that nine incidents have been reported since June. Those shootings have centered on Madison Street and Roosevelt Road, he said. Aftanas said that unlike in Oak Park, three of the reported incidents involved parked vehicles being shot.

"What it's going to take is somebody to see it happen and get a vehicle description and a suspect description for us to catch them," he said.

Most of the incidents have taken place overnight, though, and several store owners in Oak Park were unaware their windows had been hit.

Amro Mohamed, a hair stylist at Aveda Hair Salon, 328 Madison St., said one of the BB holes in his window has been there a couple of years, but a second just appeared late last week.

"This was not here yesterday," he said, when the BB hole was brought to his attention. "I literally just noticed it now."

He said it's surprising to learn of all the BB gun shootings in Oak Park, saying that business owners "pay high taxes, and you wouldn't think this would happen here."

About a block away, Charlie Kim, owner of P&J Cleaners, 238 Madison St., said he also was unaware of the new BB divot in his window.

"These are very expensive windows," he said.

Kim wondered if the lights left on in his store overnight might have made him a better target. "I think they are passing by in a car and maybe the bright light [attracted them]," he said.

It is a different story in River Forest, where Deputy Police Chief Jim O'Shea said police have not received a report of any BB gun shootings in at least the last two months. 

He encouraged residents to contact police if they have information on BB gun shootings. O'Shea reminded the public can leave tips anonymously.

* This story was updated to correct the number of vehicles in Forest Park that were shot with BB guns.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

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