A crossing guard rescued a child on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. Stacy Walton was on duty outside Washington Irving Elementary School, 1125 S. Cuyler Ave., when gunshots rang out nearby in the area of South Cuyler Avenue, Ridgeland Avenue and Garfield Street around 3:10 p.m.
Unaware of the chaos surrounding him, one student attempted to cross the street as one of the cars involved in the shooting sped past the school, fleeing, but Walton immediately snatched him out of the vehicle’s way.
“I just grabbed the baby out of the street,” Walton said. “I grabbed him just before he ran out there.”
Known as Miss Stacy to the students, Walton told Wednesday Journal she could hear the car coming from the alley, then saw it turn really fast out of the alley and hit the gas right before almost hitting the young student, whose name is being withheld for reasons of privacy. Wednesday Journal has reached out to the child’s family through the school.
Six to nine rounds were fired from a black sports utility vehicle during the shooting, according to Oak Park police, which is investigating the incident.
Walton heard the shots, believing them to have come from two different shooters. Just after yanking the boy to safety, she was not able to let go of him in the immediate aftermath.
“My next thought was is another one coming?” she recalled.
Walton held the boy on the ground until the coast was clear. Everyone around, including she and the student, wept.
“We were all crying,” she said.
She didn’t even have time to get the car’s license plates. She said it all happened so quickly it blew her mind. Walton couldn’t even tell if it was a man or a woman driving the car, its windows were so tinted. She recounted the entire experience through tears.
“I thank God for protecting the children and myself on this journey to serve,” Walton said.
Walton hasn’t had a chance to speak to the parents of the child she saved. She hopes, with their permission, to take a picture with the boy, but understands if the parents may not be comfortable with putting him in the spotlight, given the traumatic nature of what took place.
When the kids returned to school from the holiday weekend, the boy thanked her.
“He was just like, ‘Thank you, Miss Stacy, for saving my life,” Walton said. “My heart just melted.”
Walton has been a crossing guard on and off for about 13 years, working throughout some of the coldest winters in recent history. Her employer is Andy Frain Services, a security company. Over the years, she has been stationed at every public Oak Park public school at one time or another. While she was a crossing guard at Hatch Elementary School in 2013, Walton was named a community hero by the second graders.
She has only been at Washington Irving for roughly four or five months, but in that short time, her dedication to seeing people safely across the street has earned her the appreciation of students’ parents and school faculty alike. A group of parents, grateful for her efforts that fateful Friday afternoon, banded together and purchased her a floral arrangement, plus a little extra cash to treat herself.
The card attached to the flowers reads: “Dear Ms. Stacy, the parents of Irving wanted to show their appreciation for what you do. We know our kids will be safe walking to school because of you and we hope to see you for years to come. You are loved. You are a hero!”
The floral arrangement featured colorful delphiniums and gerbera daisies from Westgate Flower & Plant Shop, 841 S. Oak Park Ave. The bouquet was made extra special by the florists, who were moved by Walton’s selfless act.
“We gotta pay good actions forward,” said Adam Szetela, co-owner of the local flower shop.
The intersection of Cuyler Avenue and Harvard Street, where Walton crosses children each morning and afternoon, is particularly busy, according to Aaron Stigger, who organized the group gift from the parents. The traffic presents a danger to pedestrians of all ages.
“We’ve had multiple parents over the past few years that have been hit by cars because there’s too much traffic and it depends on the crossing guard’s ability to get cars stopped,” said Stigger, who has a third-grader at Irving.
Not every crossing guard the elementary school has had is of the same quality as Walton, in Stigger’s experience.
“She’s been fantastic and has brought a lot of comfort to parents,” Stigger said.
Each school day morning, Walton shows up at least 15 minutes early to her 7:30 a.m. shift, in case parents need to drop their kids off at school early, then hangs around a little after her afternoon shift ends, on the off chance anyone is running late.
“I always tell them go straight home and, no matter what, be safe,” she said.