BLOOMINGTON — It's been almost a decade since McLean County saw five murders in a single year, but the deaths of Taneshiea A. Brown, 20, and Steven C. Alexander Jr., 18, in a Sunday morning shooting marked the fourth and fifth homicides in the Twin Cities this year.
The eight cases reported in 2008, which included six in Bloomington, was the high mark for homicides. Of the homicides seen in just the first half of 2018, three are in Bloomington and two in Normal.
On Tuesday, there were no new details released in the deaths of Brown and Alexander. The two were at what police described as a large gathering in the 1200 block of Orchard Road shortly after 1 a.m. Sunday when they were shot and killed. Two other people also were shot, but their names and conditions have not been released.
“Citizens can help by speaking out about what happened to show these types of acts will not be tolerated,” Bloomington Police Chief Clay Wheeler said Tuesday.
"Both Normal and Bloomington have seen senseless loss of life. The community needs to stand together and say this is unacceptable. Help by providing alternatives for our youth."
A disturbing pattern of young victims and alleged assailants is evident in the most recent deadly attacks, including the April shooting at Lancaster Heights in Normal that left two Bloomington men dead: Joseph Gardner, 20, and Reginaldt Hart, Jr., 19.
Christopher Harrison, 18, of Bloomington, faces six counts of first-degree murder among other charges in that case. Harrison was 17 at the time of the shooting.
“It’s tragic. We have a problem and we have to do something about it. The first step is identifying what the true problem is, if the variables are consistent in every case and what resources can be put out for our families so we don’t have recurrence,” said Bryan Kendall, principal at the Regional Alternative School in Bloomington.
Kendall said Alexander and several individuals involved in the recent deadly shootings were past students at RAS that serves students with a variety of academic, social, economic or behavioral issues at locations in Bloomington, Clinton and Pontiac.
“This is a great community, but we have to assess what we’re doing to create more services for kids. There are a lot of youth in crisis. It takes one significant adult relationship to change a life,” said Kendall.
Beyond increased services and communication with youth, officials with local social justice groups think the end to violence will come through action from lawmakers.
McLean County Moms Demand Action is part of a national organization seeking solutions to end gun violence.
“We’re trying to work legislatively to close deadly loopholes in background checks. Another goal of ours is promoting gun safety and we’re working to support reasonable limits to where, when and how loaded guns can be used in public,” said Karen Irvin, co-leader of the group.
Creating mechanisms for open communication, such as town hall discussions and meetings between community groups, also will lead to less violence, said Kendall.
“I believe in people. I believe in kids. They know what the problems are. We have to be invitational in accessing their voices. They know the truth and realities, and as adults, our job is to not let them down,” said Kendall.
Moms Demand Action has joined the Central Illinois group, Voices of Reason, to advocate for legislation to require gun dealers to certify their federal license with the state police, boost gun trafficking research and penalize private dealers who fail to properly maintain records of sales.
“These recent young people who have died really hit home. It’s senseless and sad,” said Jodie Slothower, leader of Voices of Reason. “We need a lot more people standing up and saying guns are not the answer. Easy access to guns is not the best idea.”