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Hazel Crest, Illinois leaders address safety concerns after shots fired at grade school cheerleaders

HAZEL CREST, Ill. (WLS) — There’s an increased police presence at Jesse White Learning Academy after a rise in gun violence and crime near the south suburban grade school in Hazel Crest.

“We want our students to be concerned about getting into college instead of getting home,” said Dr. Kenneth Spells, Superintendent of Hazel Crest School District 152.

The new safety protocol follows two incidents: a drive-by shooting nearby and a car theft on school property in as many weeks in the school district that serves Hazel Crest, East Hazel Crest, Markham and Harvey.

“It’s not just a Chicago problem, everyone has the problem,” said Dean Barnett, with Hazel Crest School District 152. “What we don’t want it to do is become commonplace, where gunfire is something you expect.”

School officials say the first incident happened on January 11 near the intersection of 169th and Anthony when someone traveling in a white car opened fire on a group of about a half dozen cheerleaders walking home from a basketball game at the pre-K through 8th grade elementary school of 450 students.

Luckily, a teacher escorting the girls home was able to use his car to shield them.

“The car just drove past and just got to shooting,” teacher’s assistant Christian Bourne said. “No one said anything. No one looked up.”

Bourne’s vehicle sustained some damage, but no one was hurt. Still, there is concern.

“Something of this magnitude directed directly at junior high school students, those things don’t happen here,” said Chief Mitchell Davis, Hazel Crest Police Dept.

The other incident happened the following day, when a teacher’s car was broken into in broad daylight and stolen from the school’s parking lot.

On Tuesday, the school community, local officials along with police and the mayor sounded the alarm by forming Team Hazel Crest 152 and a Half.

It’s a collaborative effort to address what they call a recent uptick in violent crime by increasing their focus on safety and ways to protect the community. The effort received plenty of support.

“For the most part, I feel comfortable since they upped the patrols,” parent Camya Clark said.

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