Jim Dey: Nearly a year later, no answers in party shooting
It's been almost a year since a shooting at a campus-area party left three people wounded, including former University of Illinois football player Trulon Henry.
That's enough time for many people to forget it happened.
But Urbana police haven't forgotten, and neither has the most seriously wounded of the partygoers.
Brian Reed, a 23-year-old UI graduate who had hoped to attend law school, lives with the consequences of the senseless mayhem every day.
Left a quadriplegic from a shot to the face that severed his spinal cord, Reed is confined to his parents' Palos Park home, where in-home nursing care is required to tend to his needs.
"One bullet has ripped his life apart," said Deborah Reed, Brian's mother.
Police suspect the shooting was retaliation by an unidentified individual who either was refused entrance to or asked to leave a party at 1004 S. Lincoln Ave. Henry was shot in the hand; another man, Stephen Martin, was hit in the leg.
Police have conducted a lengthy investigation to identify the shooter, compiling more than 1,400 pages of reports and interviewing more than 100 witnesses. They have worked with officers from at least nine law enforcement agencies from all over the state to find and interview individuals who were present.
But they acknowledge that they need assistance from the public.
"We continue to work the case, but we sure could use some help," Urbana police investigator Duane Maxey said.
Maxey and fellow investigator Dan Morgan met with The News-Gazette this week to discuss the circumstances of the shooting. They're hoping that someone with information will be moved by what has transpired and come forward.
Calling it a "tragic, tragic case," Maxey described Reed as "a good, decent young man who was struck down in the prime of his life.
"We want to do everything we can to help him," he said.
Maxey said police believe the shooter was accompanied by others who can provide authorities the information they need to make an arrest.
"He was traveling with a number of people. Someone knows who it is. Someone has clear, confirmable evidence that will help us ID this individual," he said.
The shooting occurred about 3:25 a.m. Nov. 13, 2011, at a residence occupied by members of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.
Anywhere from 100 to 200 people were present at the party, milling around inside the house and outside in a fenced-in backyard.
Although they are not 100 percent certain, authorities attribute the shooting to one of two separate incidents that occurred shortly before the shots were fired.
"We have to have motivation for this type of heinous act," Maxey said.
The first incident occurred at the front door, where members of a group unknown to the party's hosts attempted to gain entrance. Complaining about a $5 cover charge, they exchanged words with the doormen before leaving.
The second incident occurred a few minutes later, when a fight involving another group broke out inside the house. Authorities said the fight occurred after one individual bumped into another and punches were thrown. Those individuals were ejected from the premises.
If the police theory is correct, a gunman with one of the two groups sought revenge.
Outside the residence, the gunman walked along the backyard privacy fence before finding an abandoned cabinet resting against the 6-foot fence. The gunman climbed onto the cabinet and, using it as a platform, looked over the fence and fired at least five shots into a group of men standing at the backdoor entrance. None of those who were hit were involved in the prior disputes.
Fired at a downward trajectory, a bullet hit Reed in the face and severed his spinal cord. Reed barely survived the shooting, prompting Deborah Reed to describe her son's care as "outstanding." But doctors could do nothing about her son's paralysis.
Witnesses reported that a gray Dodge Charger was seen speeding from the scene, and it appeared that might be a promising lead.
But Morgan said the tip proved to be a "red herring," that authorities located the car and its occupants in another city and are satisfied none of those individuals was involved in the shooting.
The search for the occupants of the Charger illustrates the investigation's complications. Many of the people at the party were not Champaign-Urbana residents or local college students. They were in C-U to attend campus festivities hosted by the black fraternities and sororities as well as the spinoff parties at private residences that followed.
As a consequence, authorities have traveled as far south as Jackson County, deep in southern Illinois, and north to Chicago to follow leads.
Brian Reed remained hospitalized at Carle Foundation Hospital until early December, when he was transferred to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. He was able to return to his parents' home, where he had been living before his weekend visit to C-U, on March 6.
Since then, his parents' lives have been consumed by caring for their son. His mother is a former teacher. His father, G. Darryl Reed, is a lawyer with the Chicago law firm of Sidley Austin.
Deborah Reed said she is hopeful that Brian "will be himself at some point."
"His mind works fine. He's able to make decisions," she said, while acknowledging that "he can't do anything for himself."
She said she's "hoping they will get the guy" who shot her son but that an arrest cannot undo the damage.
"Even if (the shooter) went to jail, it wouldn't be just punishment," she said.
Calling the situation a parent's worst nightmare, Brian's father praised University of Illinois officials for staying in touch with the family and Urbana police for their determination in pursuing the investigation.
But he suggested that the possibility of violence at off-campus parties could be minimized if the hosts would insist attendees show a student ID.
"Students, typically, do not carry guns," G. Darrell Reed said.
Despite the tragedy, he said the family has been heartened by regular visits by his son's friends.
"We are just floored by the outpouring of support," he said. "It's uplifting to us, and it's uplifting to Brian."
Brian Reed said he only remembers "bits and pieces" of the events on that fateful evening.
Speaking in a soft voice with the sound of his ventilator humming in the background, he recalled that "I was about to go home when (the shooting) happened."
He said the event "gave me a new perspective on life, maybe not to take things for granted.
"It made me realize that you have to take advantage of opportunities and that things can change at any time."
He said that "every day is a challenge" and that "it doesn't get easier to cope with, it gets harder."
"The ambitions that I once had will probably never come to fruition," Brian Reed said.
He said that he is determined not to be bitter about what happened to him and that he hopes the man who shot him is caught and convicted.
But he was philosophical about that possibility.
"I was always taught to forgive people," he said.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 351-5369.