A 16-year-old boy who had been expelled from Benito Juarez High School is accused of fatally gunning down two students including one he believed was in a rival gang and injuring two others in attack at dismissal, prosecutors said Saturday.
Christian Acevedo appeared before Cook County Judge Ankur Srivastava, who denied bail during a hearing that was livestreamed on YouTube.
Acevedo was charged with two counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder, aggravated discharge of a firearm at a school, multiple counts of unlawful use of a weapon, and misdemeanor criminal trespass to a vehicle, officials said at a Friday evening news conference to announce charges.
Brandon Perez, 15, and Nathan Billegas, 14, were killed in the attack and two other students were wounded on Dec. 16, 2022, at dismissal outside the Pilsen school, 2150 S. Laflin St.
Perez was a student at Juarez, while Billegas was a student at Chicago Bulls College Prep, police said. The surviving girl attends Juarez and the surviving boy is a student at Noble UIC College Prep, according to police.
Acevedo, a former Benito Juarez student who had been expelled from the school the year before for behavior, academic, and attendance issues, was captured on video and seen by witnesses on the grounds of the school, 2150 S. Laflin St., minutes before the attack, including talking to people on the soccer field, according to Assistant State’s Attorney Thomas Darman.
As classes let out, a group of students which included some of the victims gathered under a bridge that connects the old and new buildings, in an area called “the rock” while another group of about seven young people stood nearby, Darman said.
When a witness from the victims’ group walked over to greet the other group the witness overheard someone say: “there are Razas over there,” Darman said
Acevedo is a known member of a street gang known as the Bishops while one of the victims was affiliated with the La Raza street gang, according to Darman.
The witness returned to the victims and warned them about Acevedo being there to “cause trouble” and suggested they leave the area, but that’s when Acevedo confronted them and asked Perez, “if he was a Raza,” Darman said.
When Perez asked him why he wanted to know, Acevedo walked a few steps away but spun around and shot Perez in the head, and “continued” shooting, hitting Billegas in the head, and the two 14-year-old students, one of whom was a “bystander,” Darman said.
Acevedo ran away still holding the gun but a witness, who had taken a picture of Acevedo holding a gun over one of the victims, gave chase screaming at him to stop, but eventually lost track of him, according to Darman.
Acevedo was placed into custody after police executed a search warrant at his home, where they found four guns in his bedroom, three of which were at the foot of his bed in a backpack and another one wrapped in a sweatshirt on the bed. All were fully loaded with extended magazines, Darman added, saying three also had switches to make them fully automatic.
Several witnesses identified Acevedo as the shooter and he was captured on video surveillance, Darman said.
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“Of course, this is a tragedy all around,” said Nicholas Giordano, an attorney representing Acevedo, who added that Acevedo lives with his father, two teenage sisters and grandparents and works in construction with his dad. “It is horrible, judge, that two people have been killed here,” Giordano said.
Giordano, who contended there was no DNA evidence found, no fingerprints, and no “admission” of guilt, also questioned the validity of photo lineups and asked why it took so long to make an arrest if they “knew who he was.”
“This happened back in December but there wasn’t an arrest until Feb. 9,” Giordano said.
In the days following the brazen attack, classmates staged demonstrations, including a walkout and held memorials while police asked for the public’s help after issuing an alert with a picture of a person who was running outside the school at the time of the shooting.
The person in the alert turned out to be the teen charged, Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan confirmed at the Friday news conference
Acevedo, who has no criminal history, is due back in court on Mar. 3