I saw the shooting Saturday on Madison Street. The Oak Park police later put out a statement that the event was “amongst members of the [funeral] procession without any impact to any bystanders.” Given that the funeral was “only” passing through Oak Park, that seems to me to convey a tone of: Don’t worry; it was between “others,” and doesn’t pertain to any of “us.” I beg to differ. Since I failed in my efforts to make known to the police what I saw, I will relate it here.
I happened to be walking south on Home Avenue, approaching Madison, a path I have followed on foot well over half of the days in the 48 years I have lived in Oak Park. When I arrived at the corner, a host of cars moving briskly, at least the speed limit, west on Madison, proceeded through the Home Avenue intersection against a red light, as part of a funeral. Having seen many of these before, I looked east, as I stood on the curb, to see how much longer I would have to wait to cross, and saw cars with headlights and orange “funeral” stickers as far as I could see toward Oak Park Avenue. The moving cars were all in the single driving lane.
A white or light grey sedan in the cortege cleared the parked cars beyond Clinton, and then pulled into the vacant curb lane between it and me, and quickly accelerated to pass other cars in front of it in the caravan. Then a black car ahead of it began to angle toward the curb lane as if to head it off, but it was too late.
This did not look good to me, as they were fast approaching where I was standing on the curb, and I instinctively backed up a step. Suddenly I saw either two or three puffs of smoke burst between the two cars, and I heard a “poof, poof” sound (even though I was wearing pretty effective noise-canceling headphones). It was either two or three shots, and I don’t know if they all were in one direction or not.
I shouted that those were gunshots, and the other pedestrian and I turned and ran a short way north on the Home Avenue sidewalk, and then turned east into the driveway behind the apartment buildings on the north side of Madison. I immediately saw a car ahead of me (east) pass that same driveway, going north through the alley and away from Madison, and I turned back to see a car speed north on Home Avenue, probably at least one of them, if not both, from the funeral cortege, as if they, too, were fleeing the gunfire. I did not see either of the two cars apparently involved in the shooting; I conclude that it is almost certain that they sped west on Madison, probably making good an escape: at least one from the law, and perhaps one from the other. From the time I saw the gun smoke, it had been probably no more than about 5 seconds.
After a minute it seemed it was over, and I very slowly made my way back to the corner to verify it was safe. As I did, I called 911 to report the shooting, and, after being transferred about four times, had great difficulty conveying anything of what I had seen, or even giving my name and contact information.
After a few minutes I noticed flashing lights in the distance. After a few more minutes, police cars screamed past me from the west on Madison, first from River Forest, and then from Oak Park, all proceeding to Clinton Avenue where the lanes were blocked by the remaining cars from the funeral caravan. There was a lot of commotion, and when I felt it was safe, I approached Clinton to try to make myself available to the police, as I thought nobody else had likely seen what I had. But virtually all of them were directing their attention to pedestrians on the sidewalk who gave every appearance of being part of the funeral caravan, some of them engaged in the most violently angry shouting at each other, and I was unable to even get the attention of any Oak Park police. Eventually I did see a River Forest policeman seated in a squad car, approached him and narrated what I had seen, as well as my belief that it was unlikely anybody had seen more, and gave him my contact information, which he said he would forward. I have yet to hear from anybody inquiring about it.
After that, I proceeded south on foot about half a block on Clinton, where I encountered a neighborhood couple on their front steps. One told me he had been sitting in his backyard between Clinton and Kenilworth, and had heard what turned out to be gunshots coming from the north toward Kenilworth, and had gone to see if it was fireworks. On the sidewalk on Madison near Kenilworth, he had seen somebody on the sidewalk with blood. He left when he observed the apparently violently angry pedestrians nearby, perhaps the same ones I had seen.
When I asked him how many shots he had heard, I was shocked to hear “30 or 40,” and that they sounded as if some were in response to others: i.e., shooting back and forth.
It all happened so fast that it was impossible to get anything like a license plate. I concluded both that it is highly unlikely that any bystanders would be able to provide any information that would lead to the solving of these crimes, and if they are to be solved, it would have to be from information from those in the caravan, such as those who were shot, publicly reported to be four.
Reflecting later on these events, I realized had I not had the presence of mind to quickly react and run when I saw the smoke and heard the gunshots, the two cars speeding toward me in the curb lane would have reached me, standing a few feet from the curb, in no more than 5 seconds, and someone in one of them would have been close enough to have shot me, at point blank range. There was no apparent reason for them to exchange gunshots either, but apparently at least one, if not both, did so anyway).
No, Oak Park Police Department, it is not true that the shooting was “without any impact to any bystanders.” At least one of them was absolutely terrorized.
Never in my wildest dreams, when I first moved into Oak Park almost 50 years ago, would I have imagined that I would ever find myself in Oak Park, running for my life, from a hail of gunfire that occurred about 50-70 yards from where I stood, coming from a car or cars that would have passed within 5-10 feet from the spot where I was standing, within so short a time that it was almost impossible to avoid, but for a fortunate instinctive reaction, which would not even have occurred, had I not fortuitously been looking directly at the shooting at the precise moment when it happened. I was terrorized.
For the citizens of Oak Park who think they live beyond the avenues of such terror as I have witnessed, think again.
Frank Stachyra is a longtime Oak Park resident.