November 05, 2012

Concealed Carry on Ballot in Some Counties

With most voters focused on the economy or health care when they vote Tuesday, some in Illinois will get a chance to send a message about gun control.

Gun-rights advocates in at least nine mostly rural counties have placed measures on ballots asking voters if they want Illinois to allow its residents to carry concealed weapons. Currently, Illinois is the last U.S. state where the practice is entirely illegal.

The measures are nonbinding, because no local law can override state law. But advocates hope the votes will help build pressure on lawmakers to support so-called "concealed carry," an issue that resonates in much of Illinois, and highlights the divide between Chicago's powerful anti-gun forces and the rest of the state.

While Gov. Pat Quinn, a Chicagoan, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have both pushed for even tighter controls on guns, both the Republican and Democratic candidates in one downstate congressional race say they'd like to see concealed weapons legalized. And a prosecutor in McLean County in central Illinois said recently that he wouldn't enforce the current state ban.

"Part of it, I'm sure, is that growing up in more rural areas, people have grown up hunting, shooting guns," said Terry Patton, the Henry County state's attorney, who supports the legalization of concealed weapons. "They don't have the fear of guns, maybe, that someone who has never held a gun or shot a gun in their life might have against guns."

Patton said there are nights he leaves the courthouse when he wishes he could carry a gun.

"There's a fair number of times when I'm walking out of the office at night and just finished making a lot of family and loved ones extremely unhappy, sending someone away to prison."

Quinn has promised to veto any bill that would legalize concealed weapons, and earlier this year pushed for a ban on assault weapons. And Emanuel has pushed for statewide handgun registration, as part of a tough gun-control stance he inherited from previous Chicago mayors.

"We don't want situations when people can pull out weapons at their local grocery store, sports stadium or shopping mall," said Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson.

The Illinois House last year voted down a bill that would have legalized concealed weapons, but the vote was close.

The idea of allowing people to legally walk around with a "deadly weapon" in a pocket or holster horrifies Colleen Daley, the executive director of the Chicago-based Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence. She's grown used to constant pressure from gun rights advocates to make it legal, but sees no reason to worry it will happen soon.

"Every year we do hear, 'This is the year concealed carry is going to pass,'" said Daley, who isn't related to the Chicago political family of the same name.

In addition to Henry County, the concealed weapons measures are on ballots in nearby McDonough, Mercer, Rock Island and Warren counties, Adams and Schuyler counties in western Illinois, Bond County in the south-central part of the state, and Stephenson County along the Wisconsin state line.

In Warren County, the man behind the ballot measure is 42-year-old Sean McKee, a computer-network administrator, husband and father who lives just outside Monmouth.

He started gathering the signatures needed to get the question on the ballot after a series of break-ins in the rural area where he lives. He installed a security system but decided he'd be in trouble if he actually caught someone breaking in.

"What am I going to do if I pull up in our driveway and there's somebody carrying out our guns from our home?" McKee asked. "I don't have a gun with me."

Gun-rights advocates believe the ballot measures are a good way to pressure lawmakers to try again and give reason for optimism. Town hall meetings on the subject around the state have drawn big crowds in counties with ballot measures and those without.

"We had a standing-room-only crowd of 500 people" at a meeting in McHenry County in northern Illinois, said Valinda Rowe, spokeswoman for a group called IllinoisCarry that tracks gun-rights advocacy around the state. She lives in rural White County in southeastern Illinois.

While there may be strong support in some areas outside Chicago, it isn't universal. State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, a Democrat whose district includes most of Champaign and Urbana, says she polled constituents about a year and a half ago and found that two-thirds didn't want concealed weapons to be legalized.

But in the race for Illinois'  new 13th Congressional District — a largely rural area that includes Jakobsson's state House district and the University of Illinois — both Republican Rodney Davis and Democrat David Gill say Illinois residents should be able to carry guns, even on college campuses.

"That's where bad stuff happens," Gill said during an October debate.

A number of state's attorneys, like Warren County's Chip Algren, say that while they back the legalization of concealed weapons, they would first want restrictions — background checks, mandatory firearms-safety courses, and limits on where a gun could be carried.

"I don't think it would be a good idea for everybody to be able to sit around a bar packing a piece," Algren said, "or walking into a school with a gun."

November 04, 2012

Gunshot, Fight Between Roommates Leads to Campustown Arrests

An early Sunday morning fight involving a gunshot in Champaign’s Campustown neighborhood prompted the evacuations of two apartment buildings and the arrests of two men.

Champaign Police believe alcohol played a role both arrests.

Officers were called to 106 E. John Street about 1:30 a.m. after a report of a gun being fired.  Officers say a 22-year old reported fighting with his roommate after coming up from a bar.  A knife was reportedly displayed by one of the parties, and a single shot was fired at the victim through his bedroom door.

When officers arrived, police found the victim in the area, and attempted to conduct an interview.  They say the man, 22-year old David Lu, become agitated, and started ripping up flooring and seating in the squad car.  Lu was arrested for Criminal Damage to Property.

A SWAT team was called in to help officers search the building.  As a precaution, officers evacuated the apartment building, and one just to the east of it, utilizing MTD buses to provide a warm location. 

After repeated attempts to enter the suspect’s apartment, police utilized a robot to gain access, and found him sleeping in the apartment.  Another man and woman not involved in the incident were also found asleep, and a knife and a gun were recovered.

22-year old Daniel Change of Naperville was arrested for Unlawful Use of a Weapon and Aggravated Discharge of a Firearm, and transported to the Champaign County Jail.  

“Investigators believe that both parties’ use of alcohol may have contributed to these incidents,” said Champaign Police Spokeperson Rene Dunn in a press release.  “Thankfully, this was resolved safely, and no one was seriously injured.”

The University of Illinois activated the Illini Alert system, sending out e-mails and text messages to avoid the area at 3:30 and 4:30 a.m.  The all clear was sent out at 6 a.m.

October 17, 2012

Boy Charged in Normal Shooting Found Fit for Trial

Prosecutors in central Illinois say a 14-year-old boy is fit to stand trial on charges accusing him of firing gunshots into the ceiling at a high school before a teacher tackled him.

Assistant State's Attorney Bill Workman tells The Pantagraph in Bloomington that a psychiatric evaluation found the boy meets the legal requirements of mental fitness. However the boy's defense lawyer, Art Feldman, says the teen has seen receiving mental health treatment.

The boy has pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of unlawful restraint and unlawful use of a weapon. Normal police say the boy had three handguns and ammunition with him during the September incident at Normal Community High School. 

The boy also reportedly had a hatchet and two knives. No one was injured.

September 13, 2012

Officers Cleared in Shooting; Injured Man Facing Charges

A man who was shot by Champaign police after allegedly threatening the daughter of a girlfriend is facing multiple criminal counts. 

Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Reitz said 25-year-old Anthony Brown of Champaign now faces counts of home invasion and being an armed habitual criminal, but authorities say the warrant will not be issued until Brown recovers from his injuries at Carle Foundation Hospital. He is listed in critical condition. Reitz said the actions of two officers were justified in shooting Brown.

Authorities allege that after 4 a.m. Sunday, Brown was intoxicated and holding a gun when he entered a residence at 1207 Crispus Drive in Champaign. Investigations say the occupant of the home belongs to a woman which he has been involved in a relationship with Brown.

Brown threatened the mother, saying he would shoot her in the head, and he pointed the revolver at one of the daughters, pulling the trigger repeatedly, but the weapon did not fire.

Brown eventually left, and the victims locked the doors and windows, and locked themselves in a bedroom, calling 911. While the victim was still on the phone with 911, Brown returned and entered the home, prying open the bedroom door with a butter knife.

Champaign Police arrived at that time, and announced their presence, gaining entry through the front door. Brown went in the hallway, where officers saw he had the revolver in his hand. The officers identified themselves, and Brown raised the gun and pointed it at them. 

Champaign Police Officers Jon Lieb and Christopher Oberheim fired their weapons, hitting Brown multiple times. Officers have recovered the weapon, which has been sent to the Illinois State Police Crime laboratory for analysis. 

State's Attorney Rietz has been investigating the incident since Sunday morning. 

“We have reviewed the interviews of all the victims in the home, as well as the involved officers, and the 911 tape, and based on our review I am confident this was an appropriate use of force by the officers involved given the circumstances," she said. "At this time, we are concentrating our attention on the pending criminal case against Anthony Brown.” 

After filing the charges, Champaign County Judge Richard Klaus issued a $1 million warrant for Brown. 

Brown's prior criminal record includes 2004 arrests for possession of cannabis and aggravated discharge of a firearm, and a 2005 arrest for mob action.

September 10, 2012

14-year-old Charged with Shooting at Ill. School

A 14-year-old boy faces 16 felony charges after authorities accused him of firing gunshots into the ceiling at Normal Community High School on Friday before a teacher tackled him.

A public defender entered a not guilty plea for the boy during a juvenile court hearing on Monday. The boy is charged with multiple counts of unlawful restraint and unlawful use of a weapon.

Earlier Monday, Normal police said the boy had three handguns and ammunition with him during the incident  The boy also reportedly had a hatchet and two knives.

No one was injured, but Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner said the situation could have been much worse.

“I can’t get into motive or why or any of that this point cause I think we’re still trying to piece that together and get an accurate picture of it," Bleichner said. "I certainly think that it makes you understand that the potential for this situation was very great.”

Investigators have determined where the boy got the guns, but that information isn’t being publicly released at this time.

Reporters could not enter the school on Monday as 1,800 students returned, but the students appeared calm.

September 09, 2012

Police Investigate Shooting of Armed Man by Champaign Officer

Police are investigating a shooting over the weekend involving a Champaign police officer.

Officers responded to the 1200 block of Crispus Drive in Champaign early Sunday morning following a report about a man who forced his way into a home with a gun.
Police Chief Anthony Cobb said the suspect was injured after being shot by a police officer, but he would not say whether shots were fired at police.

Cobb said various agencies are looking into the matter, including the offices of the Illinois State Police, the Champaign County Sheriff’s department, and the Champaign County State’s attorney.

“The biggest thing I want the community to recognize right off the bat is that the department is truly asking for your patience," Cobb said. "We truly want to be transparent and open about our process as we’re going forward. Right now we’re in the very early stages of the investigation. So, there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done.”

Cobb said the man who was shot was transferred to Carle Hospital for treatment, but he said additional details are not being released at this time.

While an investigation continues, the officer has been placed on paid investigative leave.

September 09, 2012

Hundreds Come Together Following Shooting in Normal

More than 400 people turned out for a prayer observance Sunday evening at Normal Community High School in the wake of the hostage situation at the school just a couple of days earlier.

No one was hurt when shots were fired at the high school on Friday morning. Police took a 14-year-old boy into custody in connection with the incident after he reportedly showed up to class, and pulled out a gun, hatchet, pills, and a container of kerosene from his backpack. The young man forced his teacher and classmates to listen to his problems.

Shubhang Desai said he was held at gunpoint in the classroom. Speaking during the prayer vigil on Sunday, Desai said it was important for him to support his fellow classmates. Desai admits he is a little nervous about returning to school.

"It's going to be a little bit scary, but I'm glad we won't have to go back into the same classroom," Desai said. "A lot of people are going to act really different. They're going to notice the smaller things more, and be thankful for the things that they have. And I'm glad for that."

Unit Five has switched the health class where the incident occurred to a different room. The teacher of that class helped disarmed the gunman.

There were no physical injuries. Shubhang's mother, Pinky Desai, said her extended family has been calling from India for comfort.

"On Friday, he was in a bad shape, but yesterday he had his friend came over for a sleepover," she said. "I think he's getting better. He'll be fine soon."

After scripture readings, the crowd broke up into small groups around the perimeter of the school to pray. The person whose Facebook post started the gathering said she is thankful for the result. Julie Heinold said a turnout of 400 people was more than she expected.

"I was kind of expecting maybe 20," Heinold said. "I thought it might be my family and a couple of others, so we're really excited about that. But it's really not about numbers, it's about people needing to heal and about people needing the peace and comfort that we know only comes through God."

Some students of NCHS say they appreciate the support from the prayer group.

Counselors will be available at the school. Meanwhile, students who were unable to retrieve their belongings following the evacuation of the high school may do so Monday morning before classes start up.

September 07, 2012

14-Year Old in Custody After Shots Fired at Normal School

A hostage situation at Normal Community High School ended in a frantic scramble for a gun on Friday morning. Police have taken a 14-year-old boy into custody in connection with the incident.

No one was hurt when shots were fired at the high school. Police and Unit Five officials placed the school on lockdown a little after 8am.

Sean Kennedy, 14, was in health class when a fellow student pulled the gun, a hatchet, pills, and a container of kerosene out of his backpack and told the class no one ever listened to his problems and they were going to listen now. Kennedy said at one point, his classmate fired at the ceiling, as some members of the class bolted for the door. At another time, he set the gun down and walked away from the desk talking about his problems.

"And my teacher, he stood up and ran, grabbed the gun and then he jumped on top of the teacher's back and my teacher he…trying to empty out all the rounds from the gun, he fired a shot towards the wall and then he threw the boy to the ground and was holding him down," Kennedy said. "Then another kid in the class ran and jumped on top of him, along with the teacher and I ran over and grabbed the gun."

Kennedy helped disarm the shooter by turning on the safety of the gun.

In less than two hours, the situation was under control. Students were gradually released to their parents through the afternoon at nearby Eastview Christian Church. Police arrested the suspect and are questioning others.

"We have other individuals that we are talking to that either associated or may have spoke with this individual prior to this incident happening," Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner said.

Officials with Unit 5 are mulling what additional security measures if any need to be enacted in the wake of the shooting. Superintendent Gary Niehaus said he is not ruling out installing metal detectors. He said whatever measures are put in place should also apply to Normal West as well as the district's four junior high schools. He said, for right now, students will be the main source of security.

"One of the greatest things I think we have is roughly 2,000 students in that building that are probably going to be watching everybody's move and everybody's circumstances," Niehaus said. "I think our students will be probably the first to let someone know when something like this goes on."

Niehaus is urging parents and teachers to search student book bags. He said additional permanent security measures will have to be approved by the Unit 5 school board.

Police Chief Bliechner said no clear motive for the shooting has yet developed. He said he has no knowledge that the alleged shooter has a troubled past. He said investigators are looking into how the boy obtained the gun.

Bleichner said the investigation will continue.


August 26, 2012

Colleges Lack Resources to Treat Mental Health

More than 20 million college students across the nation will start school this month, just weeks after James Holmes, a Colorado graduate student, allegedly shot and killed 12 people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.

Experts warn that colleges across the country are seeing increases in students with severe mental health histories while campus counseling centers face stricter budgets.   

Holmes had sought counseling from the University of Colorado at the University of Colorado and at one time, was a successful applicant to the University of Illinois. 

In another University of Illinois connection, Steven Kazmierczak was a student at the Urbana campus at the time of the 2008 shooting at Northern Illinois University where he shot and killed five people.

With student enrollment on the rise and with students coming in with more severe mental health issues, campus counseling centers are seeing an increase in a demand for services.

Carla McCowan is director of the counseling center at the University of Illinois’ Urbana campus. 

She said students coming onto campus are different than they were five years ago.

“More students are reporting they’ve had suicide ideation or attempts prior to coming to college or hospitalizations prior to coming to college,” McCowan said. “When they get here, they’ve had pretty significant mental health history. That didn’t used to be the case.”

More than 10,000 students on the Illinois campus seek help from counseling center, which has 20 full-time counselors.

Many have serious problems and more than 60 attempted suicide last year.

Earlier this year, the Investigative Journalism Education Consortium, a network  of journalism faculty and students at Midwest universities and colleges funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation based in Chicago, examined mental health services at campus counseling centers in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri.

The review found that centers often fell far short of the number of mental health providers recommended by the International Association of Counseling Service and also found that recommended safety measures following campus shootings at Northern Illinois University and Virginia Tech have not been met or are being slowly implemented.

Dan Jones is the president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors. He said increased enrollment, demand for services, and students with mental health history have created a perfect storm for counseling centers –and too many students are not getting the support and services they want or need.

Jones sees the problems firsthand because he is also director of the Appalachian State University counseling center in North Carolina.

“A lot of counseling centers have to keep people on a waiting list to get them in as soon as they can, sometimes those waits are weeks and weeks to get in for ongoing counseling services,” he said.

Recently, Jones’ association released a statement on the shooting in Colorado.

“We as an organization are heavily involved in collegiate mental health issues and we know that statistically speaking the mentally ill are more likely to be the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators of violence,” he said. “We also know that the base rates for rampage shooters, such as this guy in Aurora or Cho at Virginia Tech are so low that there are no reliable valid ways of predicting violence like that.”

In its statement, the group urges support for increases in college mental health services.

Yet over the past few years, campus mental health centers have struggled to provide services amid budget constraints.  

Despite recommendations that counseling centers provide one counselor for every 1,500 students, many can only fund one counselor for every 2,000 students at best.

Meanwhile, high profile campus violence such as the shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University prompted college campuses across the country to create better ways to identify and help troubled students. This adds to the demand of campus counseling centers.

Anne Glavin, president of the international Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, said campus violence has been documented since the 1800s but with larger school populations, there’s a greater chance of incidents occurring.

“So the challenges for campus law enforcement, indeed colleges and universities in mental health counselors in higher education has been how to get people in what I tend to call these safety nets and get them identified and get them some help and resources so that we can avoid the actual violent incident,” Glavin said.

Such campus safety nets have taken the form of teams dedicated to behavioral intervention, care or threat assessment.

Typically these teams are made up of people from several departments across campus, including mental health services, student housing, and campus police.

Dan Jones said there is no science to predicting violent behavior

But these safety nets can help students who may be potentially dangerous to themselves or others.

“The side effect of having those safety nets is that more and more people are being referred to the counseling center, people from behavioral intervention teams, care teams, threat assessment teams,” Jones said. “There’s all these safety nets that are catching folks and they’re being evaluated for treatment and services and evaluation but you know the economic situation in recent years has not allowed for much increase in staff and resources.”

Jones said he believes nationwide support is needed for college mental health services, much like recent support for better mental health services in the Veterans Administration.

“I wish we could influence the federal government but we’d almost have to influence 50 state governments, the board of trustees for all the private universities, so it’s hard to lobby for all the countrywide change but I think that’s what we need,” he said.


(This story was reported for the Investigative Journalism Education Consortium and funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation of Chicago)

August 24, 2012

One Dead, 2 Hurt, in Terre Haute Shooting

Police say one person was killed and two others were wounded when an Indiana State University student fired shots in a parking lot of the Terre Haute campus.

Police say 21-year-old William Mallory opened fire about 3 a.m. Friday following a disagreement in a bar across the street from the parking lot. Police say Mallory is in custody after surrendering to officers in the Indianapolis area.

Terre Haute assistant police chief Shawn Keen tells The Tribune-Star ( ) that 24-year-old Dustin Kelly of Terre Haute was fatally shot. Two other Terre Haute men were wounded in the shooting.

Keen says it appears that words were exchanged inside the Ballyhoo Tavern and that disagreement continued out to the parking lot with the shootings about an hour later.

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