The police and ATF were able to show a ‘straw purchaser’ bought the 9mm weapon used in Englewood shooting from an Oak Forest store months before the shooting, records show.
This is the story of how a handgun that police recovered after a foot chase was linked to one of the biggest mass shootings in modern Chicago history.
It starts late last year, when people gathered at a house in Englewood to celebrate the life of a slain young man. Someone started an argument over a woman, and that set off a shootout in the house that spilled outside, police said.
Thirteen people were wounded at the house in the 5700 block of South May Street.
After the Dec. 22 shooting, Mayor Lori Lightfoot spoke at a hospital where six of the shootings victims were treated. She called it a “terrible tragedy and frankly an incredible act of cowardice” and said, “We can’t normalize this kind of behavior and tragedy in our city.”
On Dec. 30, Chicago police officers spotted a man walking on a sidewalk in Englewood with a black pistol grip sticking out of his coat pocket. The man ran, but the cops caught him after a short foot chase and said they recovered a loaded 9mm Smith & Wesson handgun.
Kameron Irvin, 21, pleaded guilty to illegal possession of a weapon and was sentenced to probation and 50 hours of community service.
He wasn’t charged in connection with the Dec. 22 shooting but was at the scene, according to police records. He was wounded during the mass shooting.
Even though Irvin wasn’t accused of being one of the shooters, the police still wanted to know where he got the gun. So they worked with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to trace the ownership of the Smith & Wesson, as they do with thousands of weapons they recover every year.
They used a federal database called the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network to compare markings on bullets test-fired from the Smith & Wesson against millions of images of ballistic evidence from crime scenes across the country.
And that linked the gun to 13 expended bullet cartridges found at the scene of the Englewood mass shooting, authorities say.
According to ATF, the ballistics database has gotten more than 126,000 such “hits” across the country during its 23-year history.
The serial number on the gun was obliterated. But investigators still were able to recover it.
Criminals often use a grinder to erase the serial number from a gun. To recover it so the gun can be traced, lab technicians polish the surface and apply a corrosive solution, sometimes containing hydrochloric acid. That corrodes the area, now highlighting the previously vanished serial numbers because of the way they’d been punched into the metal.
Using that unique identifier, ATF officials searched firearms purchase records and found that a man named Eric Blackman had bought the gun at Eagle Sports Range in Oak Forest.
Authorities say Blackman went to Eagle Sports Range last July and returned 10 days later to pick up the gun and a box of 9mm bullets. He doesn’t have a criminal background and was authorized to buy the guns as a holder of an Illinois firearm owner’s identification card.
Federal agents tracked down Blackman, who lived in Englewood. They interviewed him last Jan. 28, and he acknowledged he bought the gun for Irvin because Irvin didn’t have the FOID card needed to purchase one legally, according to an ATF affidavit.
Blackman said he’d worked with Irvin at a business in downtown Chicago for about a year and that they became friends, according to the affidavit. Blackman had worked for Garrett Popcorn, according to a bankruptcy petition he filed last year.
ATF agents got a search warrant for Blackman’s phone and found incriminating texts between him and Irvin, according to the affidavit. Blackman texted Irvin that he’d sell him the gun for $400, Irvin asked whether the guns were “good ones,” and Blackman responded, “Guns is guns,” according to the affidavit.
In August, Blackman, 28, was charged with lying on a federal form when he affirmed that he was the legitimate buyer of the gun. Now free on bail, he is awaiting trial in U.S. District Court.
Blackman also hasn’t been charged in the mass shooting.
The federal court documents in Blackman’s case don’t identify who fired the Smith & Wesson at the May Street house or say how many guns were fired.
The shooting happened during a memorial for 22-year-old Lonell Irvin, who the police said was killed when while trying to carjack someone in the Loop in April 2019. The driver of a BMW, who was licensed to carry a concealed weapon, shot Irvin in the head, according to the police.
People at the memorial were celebrating Lonell Irvin’s birthday, which was the day before the mass shooting.
Keilon Jones, 26, was one of the people at that memorial, according to the police, who said Jones and others at the party were patted down by the organizers of the memorial. He didn’t have a weapon during the pat-down but later got a gun and shot at two people standing near the front door of the apartment, according to the police. Both people fired back, and Jones ran out the back door and kept shooting, striking someone in the leg, police said.
A police surveillance camera showed Jones circle back to the block in his girlfriend’s Mazda, aiming his gun at one of the shooting victims, who fired nine shots at Jones, police said.
“The whole house is going to be a crime scene,” one officer said on the police radio. “There’s blood everywhere.”
The 13 people who were shot ranged in age from 19 to 48.
Jones, who was treated for a bullet wound, was arrested two weeks later on a charge of attempted murder in connection with the shooting. Jones, whose neck is tattooed with the words “Fear None,” is awaiting trial in Cook County criminal court.
Court records don’t say what kind of gun Jones is accused of using that night.
Marciano White, 37, was arrested the night of the shooting after he was found outside the Englewood house with a .357-caliber handgun, police said. He was charged with illegal possession of a handgun but wasn’t charged in the shooting. He’s now on home detention on electronic monitoring as he awaits trial, court records show.
White told officers he found that gun on the stairs in the house and grabbed it “out of fear of the situation,” Cook County prosecutors said.
Eagle Sports Range isn’t accused of any wrongdoing for selling the Smith & Wesson used in the mass shooting.
But Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin says he’s concerned about the store’s connection to the straw-purchasing case and that a boy was accidentally shot inside the store last December. Earlier this month, Suffredin objected to the county giving a property tax break to the store, a measure that passed by a vote of 11-5.
“Tax incentives are not rights,” Suffredin says. “We should give them to businesses that enhance the community. I don’t see a gun range helping the community.”
Eagle Sports Range didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In 2012, a University of Chicago Crime Lab study found that nearly half of the guns recovered by the Chicago police were bought in Cook County. The study looked at guns recovered within a year of their purchase — those most likely to be bought by straw purchasers.
Few gun stores have been punished for selling to straw purchasers. Undercover stings largely have been unsuccessful in proving stores intentionally sell to customers who plan to turn over legally purchased guns to criminals.