Police, others ask families to have 'real conversations' about weapons
UPDATED 2:50 p.m. Thursday
CHAMPAIGN — Area police chiefs, pastors and community members Thursday morning urged parents and others to be vigilant in the wake of three gun-related deaths in recent days.
Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup said Christopher Baker, 22, died Wednesday at about 4:35 p.m. at Carle Foundation Hospital, as a result of a gunshot wound to the head that he suffered earlier in the day at his home in Champaign.
The shooting occurred around noon Wednesday at his home on Tudor Court in Champaign.
Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb said Thursday it appeared that Baker shot himself, and that the incident is being ruled an accident at this time. He said there were others in the house at the time of the shooting.
Northrup told WDWS on Thursday that he is not ruling out other causes. Authorities continue to investigate. An autopsy is scheduled for Friday.
The Wednesday death followed the May 16 shooting in Urbana of a 3-year-old by his 14-year-old uncle, who told police he was trying to teach a gun safety lesson with what he thought was an unloaded gun, after he saw the youth with a handgun; and the May 20 fatal shooting of a 20-year-old man at the Country Brook apartment complex in west Champaign.
At a news conference Thursday at the Champaign City Building, Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb asked parents to have “real conversations” with their children about the danger of firearms.
He also asked gun owners to make sure their weapons are secure and, if any weapons are missing, to contact law enforcement or members of the clergy.
“Talk to your kids and grandkids and find out if they’re in possession of a firearm,” Urbana Police Chief Pat Connolly advised.
Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh said parents should know what’s in their kids’ rooms and cars and whom their children are with.
“We don’t want another kid senselessly killed,” he said. “Treat all guns like they are real and loaded.”
Patricia Avery, president of the Champaign County NAACP, said she lost her mother to “senseless gun violence” when she was 9 years old.
People may be worried about turning in a gun, she said. But “trouble comes when you don’t turn in a weapon, because it destroys lives,” she added.
Reports of shots fired in the city of Champaign increased from 47 in the first five months of 2011 to 76 in the same months this year. Reports in Urbana jumped from 17 to 49.
The Champaign Community and Police Partnership has discussed gun safety training and an anti-gun violence campaign as possible ways to address the problem.
Community members who want to get involved in the effort can visit a website, www.champaigncommunitycoalition.org, to learn more about what can be done.
Several pastors have volunteered to be contacts for people who don’t want to contact law enforcement directly about guns.
They include: the Rev. Rickey Parks of Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church; the Rev. Charles Nash of New Hope Church of God in Christ; the Rev. Larry Lewis of Bethel A.M.E. Church; the Rev. Lekevie Johnson of Jericho Missionary Baptist Church; the Rev. Jerome Chambers of Liberty Temple Church of God; and the Rev. Jimmy Holmes of Morning Star Free Will Baptist Church.
“We don’t want to stand behind the pulpit and bury another young person,” Nash said.
Tracy Parsons, director of ACCESS Initiative, said society sometimes glorifies and glamorizes gun violence as a sign of “toughness” — but the community should recognize that youth may suffer depression and loss of hope as a result of it.
Tim Ditman and Michael Kiser of WDWS contributed to this report.