This week marks one year since the shooting death of 8-year-old Melissa Ortega in Little Village. The community has honored her memory with a mural by artist Milton Coronado and the planting of a peace tree, both near the intersection of 26th Street and Keeler Avenue. At the site, the Little Village Community Council (LVCC) held a prayer vigil and peace march Thursday in Melissa’s memory.
“The community feels, and I myself [feel] that we failed Melissa, and we also failed the shooter,” LVCC president Baltazar Enriquez said. “Melissa was 8, the shooter 16 — eight years apart. So we wanted to pray for our community because here we know that we have a serious problem when the aggressor is only 16 years old and he's able to get a gun, he's able to go into the neighborhood and shoot without any remorse, without any conscience.”
Enriquez said his organization is in the planning and fundraising phase of creating a grassroots mental health clinic to get support for residents ages 18 to 25, who he said are too old to get the free or affordable mental health services that are currently available.
“We have a problem where the community is not only in danger from people who are suffering with [their] mental health, but also them hurting themselves,” Enriquez said. “So we have seen a spike in homicides in the neighborhood and also suicides. So we're screaming, ‘Help, help, help!’ and nobody's helping.”
Enriquez said he hopes the tragedy of Melissa’s death will be a catalyst for the community to get the support he said it needs.
“If people want to come visit the peace tree, pray with it, pray with Melissa, we encourage that,” Enriquez said. “Let Melissa be the anchor of peace and let her image be the image of peace and hopefully you know, we could build a better tomorrow for our children.”