As the Evanston community reels from two homicides and one serious shooting in less than two weeks, police say the recent violence may all stem back to a murder that took place in Evanston in 2005, and the resulting ongoing feud between two local families.
In that incident, police say 19-year-old Antoine Hill shot and killed 22-year-old Robert Gresham at the Keg, 810 Grove Street. A judge sentenced Hill to 18 years in prison on charges of first-degree murder in October 2006; he was released on parole this September.
“Police believe that may have been the start of the violent back-and-forth issues between these two factions,” said Police Cmdr. Jason Parrott, a spokesperson for the Evanston Police Department. According to Parrott, the victims of three more shootings between 2010 and 2012 have family ties with either Gresham or Hill.
The next violent death in the pattern came two years after Gresham’s shooting, on Sept. 30, 2010, when 23-year-old Evanston resident Marcus Davis , according to police. Officers , who was .
Prosecutors argued that the shooting was related to the murder of Robert Gresham, based on the relationships involving two Evanston extended families: the Davises and the Bambergs. According to court documents, Gresham was John Anthony Bamberg’s brother, while Antoine Hill is Marcus Davis’ cousin.
“There is evidence that an ongoing feud between the Bamberg family and the Davis family arose from the 2005 [shooting] of Robert Gresham,” the state’s attorney’s office argued in a motion filed this June. “Bamberg threatened the victim on two prior occasions, and there is evidence that Mr. Davis and his family were subjected to incidents of shootings.”
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Court documents also show that narcotics could have been involved in that shooting. The Cook County Medical Examiner discovered a clear plastic bag on Davis’ body, containing a substance that police later identified as crack cocaine, according to court documents. Bamberg’s attorney also said that Davis was driving a car that “he had recently acquired from a person who wanted to sell it because it was too well known for being used for drug transactions."
Judge Lauren Gottainer Edidin ruled that Bamberg was not guilty in a bench trial that concluded on Nov. 30, 2012. According to court documents, Bamberg’s attorney argued that the eyewitness testimony of Davis’ girlfriend was not reliable in identifying his client as the shooter. Davis’ girlfriend told police that she knew the shooter, but did not identify him in the first lineup presented to her immediately after the shooting; she did identify him in a second lineup, presented hours later. Prosecutors argued that Davis' girlfriend was afraid to identify Bamberg the first time, according to court documents.
The judge’s decision to acquit Bamberg ultimately came down to the question of the eyewitness testimony, the Chicago Tribune reports.
A source who knows the Bamberg family, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation, said many people weren’t happy about the verdict--and that it was connected to the recent tide of violence.
“Since then, it’s been hell out here,” the source said. “You can get shot out here for saying the wrong [stuff.]”
Recent Violence is Part of the Pattern, Police Say
Most recently, police believe that the fatal shooting of Justin Murray on Nov. 29, the shooting of a 20-year-old Evanston man who was critically injured on Dec. 8, and the fatal shooting of Javar Bamberg on Dec. 12 could be tied to both prior incidents, according to Parrott. But Parrott said that police believe the shootings are more complicated than simply an extended family feud.
“Two families that don’t get along don’t resort to carrying weapons, shooting guns, organizing extended members of their family to take shots at people at 2 o’clock in the morning,” he said. “That’s not normal behavior. That’s indicative of gang-related behavior.”
Parrott also said that police believe some of the individuals connected with the incidents are involved in gang-related activities, including narcotics sales, battery and weapons possession.
“We’re confident that this is a group of individuals that are doing this, and they’re definitely targeting each other, and it’s definitely retaliatory in nature,” he said.
In the case of Justin Murray, police believe that the shooter may not have intended to kill Murray, but someone that he was with. Murray is also a distant relative of the Bamberg family, according to Parrott.
“There was nothing specific to him other than his alignment with the Bamberg family,” he said. “We’re not sure if he was the intended target or a person he was with was the intended target.”
Parrott added that the police investigation of Murray’s death was stymied by a lack of cooperating witnesses.
“People that are involved in gang-related violent behavior, the subculture is not to cooperate with police,” he said. “The subculture is, ‘We’ll take care of it ourselves. It’s our business,’ which hampers the investigation.’”
The next shooting came just hours before Justin Murray’s funeral, on Saturday, Dec. 8, when a 20-year-old Evanston man was shot and critically injured at 1:50 a.m. in the 1900 block of Howard Street. Parrott said that man’s name had come up as a suspect during police investigation of Murray’s shooting, and police believe he was the intended target. Police are not releasing his name; he remains in critical condition at the hospital, according to Parrott.
The third and most recent shooting took the life of early Tuesday morning. Javar Bamberg is the brother of John Anthony Bamberg, Jr., according to Parrott. Police believe that incident, too, may have ties to gang violence, he said.
“It’s basically an extended family feud interlaced with gang activity,” Parrott explained.
For that reason, he said, members of the general public should not be concerned about their own safety. Nevertheless, Parrott said police have increased their presence in the neighborhoods where the shootings have occurred, both to reassure residents and to prevent further violence.
“We don’t at this point think that this conflict is concluded,” he said. “Police are concerned for the potential of more violence within these groups.”
Mayor Calls It “A Tragedy As Old as the Hatfields and the McCoys”
Speaking at Justin Murray’s funeral on Saturday, Dec. 8, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl described the shootings as “a tragedy as old as the Hatfields and the McCoys, the Montagues and the Capulets,” and called for an end to the violence.
On Tuesday, she released a statement calling the continued violence “unacceptable.”
“While we grieve with our local families over their losses, the entire Evanston community has been shaken,” Tisdahl said. “Our children are concerned for their safety and all residents are questioning this unusual period of events.”
Tisdahl vowed that the Evanston Police Department was “vigorously” investigating the murders, and was working as quickly as possible to bring the culprits to justice.
She also called residents to participate in the city’s first-ever gun buyback program, scheduled for this Saturday, Dec. 15. The program was launched at the urging of Carolyn Murray, Justin Murray’s mother, who began pushing the city to do such a program this summer, months before her son was killed.
Officials will accept unloaded guns only from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Christ Temple Missionary Baptist Church, 1711 Simpson St. Participants must have proof of Evanston residency and can turn in up to two guns for $100 each.