KANKAKEE — Gunshots echoed in the distance as a handful of people walked down the steps of the Lincoln Cultural Center on Monday night.
Fifteen minutes earlier, about 50 people were gathered in the school’s cafeteria discussing concerns about student safety. Those gunshots from the 300 block of South Evergreen Avenue echoed their concerns.
“My child is growing up in violence,” said Brian Scott, a resident from the 6th Ward, where a shooting occurred during the weekend. “What’s being done about it?”
Concerns about student safety peaked on Sept. 16 when a bus full of preschool students got caught in the crossfire of a gang-related shooting in the 400 block of South Lincoln Avenue.
A week before that, Kankakee School District 111 Superintendent Genevra Walters met with Second Ward Alderwoman Stacy Gall and Alderman Michael O’Brien. That meeting resulted from several parents expressing concerns about their children’s wellbeing at a bus stop in the Upper Riverview section of town.
“I’m concerned that the problem we’re having is at all times of the day,” Walters said. “Although our students aren’t directly involved, I’m afraid they are going to get caught in something. We’ve already had a preschool bus get caught in crossfire.”
The school district and city currently are looking into the possibility of creating “strong neighborhood homes” in the city’s 1st and 2nd wards. Those homes would serve as satellite locations for police and offer social services to address neighborhood issues.
Walters said the city plans on looking at 10 homes in the 2nd Ward and renovating one before spring.
Beyond that, Walters noted that the city and school district have partnered on a $500,000 grant to add better lighting in school areas. The district also has looked into increasing patrols through a school resource officer fund.
Clearing a nuisance
The Kankakee County State’s Attorney’s Office has been cracking down on crime in the 400 block of South Lincoln Avenue ever since the bus full of preschoolers got caught in the crossfire on Sept. 16.
The office has issued an arrest warrant for Thomas A. Rebmann, the man police believe fired at two rival gang members as the school bus tried to drop off kids.
State’s Attorney Jim Rowe has filed a petition to declare a home at 456 S. Lincoln Ave. a nuisance. That would enable police to evict the owner Irene Guzman, and other occupants from the home.
Those efforts appeared to improve Monday as Guzman’s 17-year-old son, Hernan Carmona, reached a plea agreement with the state’s attorney’s office.
Carmona, who Rowe described as a leader of the Latin Kings, has been charged with attempted murder, aggravated battery with a firearm and possession of a firearm by a gang member for an Aug. 27, 2017, shooting. He also was shot in the arm outside his residence on July 4.
Under the agreement, Carmona faces up to eight years in prison at 85 percent served. He has been charged as an adult.
“That’s a good outcome, believe it or not,” Rowe said. “It gets someone off our streets for five to six years who was at the forefront for the majority of the shootings in our community.”
Rowe said that also improves his office’s chances of declaring the 456 S. Lincoln Ave. home a nuisance. On Thursday, the case will be set on whether to board the home up for six months, a year or not at all.
“It’s important that the community shows up — not because we want to pressure or intimidate anyone,” Rowe said. “We just want to show that the community cares about the outcome of that case, that we don’t want people to live in a home in our community and shoot up the neighborhood without consequences.”
At several times during the meeting, Rowe defended the efforts of the Kankakee Police Department when parents questioned Police Chief Frank Kosman about his department’s efforts to curb crime.
“You can’t prosecute your way out of this problem,” Rowe said. “You can’t incarcerate your way out of this problem. It’s hard to prevent these crimes from happening. If the police knew where a shooting or crime was going to occur, you can bet they would be there. They would absolutely be there.”