CHAMPAIGN – The mother of a 12-year-old boy attacked Saturday in a Champaign park said her son is afraid to walk home from school now.
"He's horribly shook up. He has to take the bus home from school. He doesn't want to walk the short distance home," said the mother, who asked not to be identified since the three young men present Saturday night when one slugged her son in Clark Park in the 1100 block of West Charles Street have not been identified.
A day after her son was attacked, an 11-year-old boy was punched in the face and shoulder by one of four young men in Eisner Park in the 1300 block of West Church Street.
Champaign police are investigating the possibility of links between those attacks and four other recent ones on young men on the University of Illinois campus, one as recent as Sunday morning.
While Sgt. James Rein said it's too early to tell if they're related, he said there's no question the method of the attackers is similar.
About 8:50 p.m. Saturday, the 12-year-old boy was in Clark Park playing hide-and-seek with his 9-year-old sister and an 8-year-old neighbor boy when three young men rode into the park on bicycles.
"One of them punched him in the face for no reason, then all three fled eastbound. The victim didn't know who they were. He was extremely shaken up," Rein said.
Rein said the children reported that the attackers were black males; all appeared to be around age 18 and wore tank tops and something covering the lower half of their faces, possibly bandanas. The children were unable to supply much more in the way of descriptions. The mother said they weren't sure of the ages but just knew that the attackers were taller than her son, who's 5 feet 8 inches tall.
"My son is a little bigger for his age, so maybe they thought he was an adult," she said, adding that although not seriously hurt, he lost a baby tooth later that evening.
Pat Grenda, the father of the other boy in the park, said he's disturbed about the attack and wants other parents to know what's going on.
"I was actually watching this whole thing," said Grenda, who was on his porch across the street and could see the children in the park. Although he saw the three males on bicycles ride into the park, he wasn't close enough to give a description. The attackers rode away when Grenda ran into the park.
He and the other boy's mother both said their children play in that park all the time and have no reason to be leery of anyone they don't recognize.
"We raised them to not be judgmental and to not stereotype people. They assume nothing of three men coming into the park on bicycles," said the mother, who said her kids got a first-hand lesson at being more aware of their surroundings and the people around them.
Calling theirs a safe neighborhood, Grenda said the children are now "concerned when they hear a noise. They don't want to be out there when it's getting dusk or in the daylight."
A similar attack occurred about 7:30 p.m. Sunday in Eisner Park on West Church Street.
An 11-year-old boy was approached from behind by four boys he did not know and punched in the left side of the face and shoulder. He described the youths as black, about 9 to 13 years old and wearing white tank tops. One had a mohawk haircut. The victim did not require medical attention, Rein said.
The male victims on the UI campus have not been as lucky.
About 12:20 a.m. Sunday, a 20-year-old UI student reported being attacked by five to seven unknown men as he walked on Chalmers Street near First. He was knocked to the ground, kicked and punched. Rein said the Champaign man was treated at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana for scrapes and bruises. A witness saw two black males kicking the man while he was down, including kicking him in the head. He described one of the kickers as being 5 feet 8 inches tall with a white shirt and a white baseball hat.
The motive in all the attacks appears to be sport, not theft or robbery, Rein said.
"It's almost like it's 'Let's go get our kicks, punch someone in the face to see if we can knock them out,'" Rein said. "Years ago, I can't say a specific year, that was part of a local gang (rite) to see if you could knock out someone with one punch. They call it polar bear hunting."
Champaign police are also investigating the following attacks:
– Aug. 15, in the 500 block of East Green Street, about 2:15 a.m., a man was battered by four men, one of whom was walking behind him in a crowd, poking him. A second struck him in the back of the head with a closed fist. The victim kept walking and a third attacker hit the man again in the back of the head with a closed fist, causing him to fall. A fourth attacker then kicked him in the head while he was down. He lost consciousness, suffered a bump on his head, cut on his forehead, and possibly a broken nose.
The attackers were described as black, 22 to 25 years old, anywhere from 140 to 250 pounds, and 5 feet 5 inches to 6 feet tall.
– Aug. 18, in the 600 block of South Fourth Street, about 3:10 a.m., a 21-year-old man was walking on the sidewalk near Healey Street when he was approached by three men, one of whom asked if he had a lighter. As the victim went for his lighter, one man hit him in the face. He tried to run but was chased by the other two men, knocked to the ground, then kicked and punched.
The attackers were described as black, 18 to 25 years old, one with slender build, 180 pounds, about 5 feet 10 inches tall.
– Aug. 27 in the 300 block of East Green Street, about 2:40 a.m., two men were walking, one in front of the other, when three men walked past them. The first man heard a thud, turned around, and saw his friend unconscious on the ground. The three men who had passed them continued to walk away. The victim was taken to Provena Covenant Medical Center in Champaign, where he was treated for a skull fracture and other bumps and scrapes to his head.
Anyone with information on any of the attacks should call Crimestoppers at 217-373-8477 or send an anonymous tip at http://www.373tips.com. Tips can also be sent by text by sending Tip397 plus the tip to 274637. Information is confidential and rewards are made for information leading to the arrest of persons responsible.