9-year-old girl killed in Back of the Yards mass shooting was 'the princess of the family' (2024)

Saturday should have been a joyous one for Alejandra Velasquez and her family. They started their afternoon in church for a relative's confirmation and later gathered to celebrate outside her in-laws' Back of the Yards home.

But just before they cut the cake, gunfire erupted, killing a 9-year-old girl and wounding three boys and seven adults.

"It just came out of nowhere," Velasquez said.

She dropped to the ground when she heard the shots. Blood was everywhere, parents cried out for their children, car windows shattered, the cake flew.

Ariana Molina, Velasquez's niece and goddaughter, was killed. Velasquez was standing in front of Ariana when she was shot in her head.

"It's hard to see her a few minutes before playing with my son. And then to see her on the floor not responding," Velasquez said Sunday afternoon, standing across the street from where the shooting happened.

Relatives were still gathered together on the block Sunday, sitting in stunned silence, sobbing and holding each other. Many of the family live on the street, including Velasquez, Ariana's family and both of Ariana's grandmothers.

A banner with balloons reading "God bless" in gold lettering was hung on one of the houses. A small memorial with a cross and pink balloons and votive candles honored Ariana and the others on the sidewalk.

"The people who did this did not have a heart. They hurt innocent people," Ariana's grandmother said in Spanish between sobs.

9-year-old girl killed in Back of the Yards mass shooting was 'the princess of the family' (2)

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Two brothers, ages 1 and 8, were also shot several times in the abdomen and hospitalized in critical condition, according to Velasquez and Chicago police. A 9-year-old boy suffered a graze wound on his hand and was listed in good condition.

The seven wounded adults ranged in age from 19 to 40, according to police. Ariana's mom was shot in her shoulder and remains hospitalized, Velasquez said. A 36-year-old man suffered gunshot wounds to his arms and back and was in critical condition. The other adults wounded were listed in good condition.

All the victims are related, Velasquez said.

Police said the shooting was likely the result of gang violence. Officers responded to a ShotSpotter alert that picked up 18 shots fired about 9:30 p.m. in the 2000 block of West 52nd Street, Area 1 Deputy Chief Don Jerome said Saturday night.

The shooters opened fire on the family with assault rifles and handguns, and 75 shell casings were recovered, according to a police report. The first officers at the scene performed lifesaving measures, applying tourniquets and chest seal bandages.

"This was not a random act of violence; it was likely gang-related," Jerome said. "Regardless of the motivation for this incident ... innocent children were struck tonight and one of them tragically succumbed to her wounds. The offenders' actions, make no mistake, are horrific and unacceptable in our city."

Over the last two years, Velasquez said the violence in and around their block has gotten worse.

"I don't understand it. If it was a rival between two gangs, who would [shoot] when there's a family there? I feel like they just shot out of nowhere," Velasquez said. "I know it's not just here, it's all over the city. But this has to stop. There are a lot children on this block."

Ariana, the only girl among the kid cousins, was always smiling, Velasquez said. She loved dresses and all things girly. She recently dyed her hair to match the Little Mermaid's fiery red locks.

"She was so sweet and loving," Velasquez said. "She was the princess of the family."

"Mi muñeca," her grandmother sobbed over and over, meaning "My doll" in Spanish.

9-year-old girl killed in Back of the Yards mass shooting was 'the princess of the family' (3)

Provided by family

Relatives have launched a GoFundMe page to ease the financial burden on Ariana's parents and four siblings, who range in age from 3 to 16.

"They [her siblings] have to grapple with the trauma of losing their only sister, the injuries their father and mother sustained, and the injuries that eight other family members sustained," a relative wrote on the GoFundMe page. "It is an immense burden that they have to deal with."

On the GoFundMe page —which has raised about $2,000 of its $10,000 goal — relatives thanked community members for their outpouring of support during this difficult time.

"She will forever be remembered as her parents princess, a loving and caring child to everyone that she was able to meet, always looking after everyone else, even at only 9 years old, as she took her older sister duties very seriously and extended that love and care to anyone that surrounded her," the page reads.

Mayor Brandon Johnson mourned Ariana and prayed for the others' recovery in a statement Sunday.

"This heinous and cowardly act of wanton violence that leaves our city mourning children is beyond reprehensible and has no place in our communities," Johnson said. "We are all allowed to be outraged today — a warm, spring day that I am sure this child would have been enjoying with family. I am praying for her loved ones and her community as they experience the unimaginable pain of losing a child."

In a statement Sunday morning, 16th Ward Ald. Stephanie Coleman said she was confident police "will work tirelessly to apprehend the person or persons responsible for this cowardly crime."

"The Back of the Yards community is united in our grief, prayers and collective mindset that we must continue to stand firm against these senseless acts of physical force," Coleman wrote. "I want to send my heartfelt condolences to the family of this precious jewel and my prayers to every person injured."

At least 120 children younger than age 16 have been shot to death in Chicago since 2018, according to data kept by the Sun-Times. In 85 of the cases — more than half — no arrests have been made.

Also Saturday night, about half an hour after the mass shooting in Back of the Yards, a 9-year-old boy was wounded in another shooting several miles away in the North Lawndale neighborhood.

Police said the boy was on a sidewalk about 10 p.m. in the 1500 block of South Sawyer Avenue when someone fired shots in the area, and he was struck. He was taken to Stroger Hospital in good condition.

Contributing: Sophie Sherry

9-year-old girl killed in Back of the Yards mass shooting was 'the princess of the family' (4)

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

9-year-old girl killed in Back of the Yards mass shooting was 'the princess of the family' (5)

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

9-year-old girl killed in Back of the Yards mass shooting was 'the princess of the family' (2024)
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