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CHAMPAIGN — Police are not sharing much except for their frustration about the latest homicide in the city that took the life of a Champaign 17-year-old who was attacked on a city street in broad daylight.

“I can confirm that the suspects were wearing masks and this was not a random act of violence,” Deputy Police Chief Nate Rath said at a Friday afternoon news conference held a little less than 24 hours after Jonathon McPhearson, 17, was fatally shot by an undisclosed number of masked shooters on foot.

At 5:34 p.m. Thursday, police went to the 1500 block of West Kirby Avenue and found Mr. McPhearson in the road with a gunshot wound. Officers applied two chest seals and started CPR before paramedics arrived to take him to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

“I can’t speak to a motive why he was shot,” Rath said when asked if Mr. McPhearson’s death may be a result of gang activity.

Rath, Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen, Deputy Mayor Will Kyles, Unit 4 Superintendent Shelia Boozer and Champaign Community Relations Specialist Mary Catherine Roberson each took turns expressing their condolences to Mr. McPhearson’s family at Friday’s news conference.

But they also wanted to assure a community weary from more than 200 shootings and 12 homicides in nine months that they are not about to back down from efforts to end the violence.

“People are coming together,” said Kyles, who wore a shirt that said “Different” on it.

“While gun violence may plague our nation, we are different in Champaign,” he said of community efforts to help those affected by the trauma of gun violence and to provide services to prevent it. “We’re here until it ends and as a city to do what we need to do as long as we need to do it.”

“We cannot accept this as normal,” Feinen said, adding that she was “heartbroken and angry” at Mr. McPhearson’s death. “Jonathon was only 17. Let that sink in.”

Rath applauded the efforts of patrol officers and detectives who continue to work despite staffing shortages and a challenging environment for police officers.

“The shooting scenes they are responding to are often filled with gruesome injuries, loss of life and grieving families, which takes a tremendous toll on officers and detectives. Yet their commitment to public safety never wavers,” he said.

The department is currently down about 22 to 24 officers from what it’s authorized to employ.

“Police alone cannot be the solution to this very complex societal issue. We need the public’s eyes and ears,” Rath said. “We know there are people in this community who are intentionally withholding information.”

Boozer said in addition to reacting to tragedies such as Mr. McPhearson’s murder near an elementary school, the school district is doing “preventative, proactive work” including teaching students about managing stress and trauma, using certified consultants to train staff about trauma and enrolling school psychologists and social workers in evidence-based training.

She said there is also a “loud cry” from the community that metal detectors at the high school should be made permanent, instead of used on random days. That is being considered, she said.

Asked about a Centennial High School student who was arrested and found to have a BB gun, Boozer said she was aware that he was wanted on a warrant.

Mere possession of a BB gun on school property is not a crime, State’s Attorney Julia Rietz said. She said the youth was wanted for a parole violation.

Roberson said trauma specialists have been in touch with Mr. McPhearson’s family to see how they can best help them.


Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).

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