2 Simeon High School students killed in separate South Side shootings, Chicago police say

'They call it the Simeon curse because we lose a student every year.'

ByLiz Nagy, Jessica D'Onofrio, Ravi Baichwal, and ABC7 Chicago Digital Team WLS logo
Thursday, September 23, 2021
2 Simeon HS students killed in separate shootings
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Jamari Williams, a JV football player, and his Simeon High School classmate Kentrell McNeal were killed in separate Chicago shootings Tuesday.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The loss of two Simeon High School high school students in two separate Chicago shootings Tuesday has sent shockwaves through the Chatham school.

Fifteen-year-old Jamari Williams was fatally shot in Chicago's Chatham neighborhood Tuesday afternoon, according to CPD.

Chicago police said the teen was in front a business in the 8300-block of South Holland, just down the street from Simeon High School, at about 2:40 p.m. when a black car approached and someone inside opened fire.

Willams was struck in the chest and taken to University of Chicago Hospital in critical condition, where he later died, police said.

"Growing up in Chicago, you hear about it, you see it all the time. For you to open fire in a crowd of students..." said Aie'rianna Williams, Simeon student.

Williams was a player on the junior varsity football team, and also played city league football with the Ogden Park Vikings.

"To see something tragic like this happen, it's heartbreaking," said Darryl Smith, football coach. "It's just like a broken record, every day we turn the news on, another child shot, another teenager shot, and when you have some sort of contact with the child it's heartbreaking."

Smith said while they can see some kids in trouble on their city league team, the point of playing is to help them get back on the path and that Williams was a stellar teammate and person.

"Coaches, we got to somehow learn how to deal with them and turn that cycle around, so I would say he ranks right up in there in the top 10 as far as manners, sports, academics, all of that, top 10," Smith said.

Fellow students said the shooting happened during an afterschool gathering.

A Simeon student said Tuesday is an early dismissal day, where students are let out at 2:20 p.m. The area where the shooting happened is frequented by students, she also said, who often hang out at the Potbelly and GameStop and other stores.

"It's heartbreaking. They call it the Simeon curse because we lose a student every year. When is it going to stop? Because we all know when we graduate it's not going to stop. We're going to hear about it again, and again. It's tiring," Williams said, breaking into tears. "Just stop, like, just stop."

A local pastor said the teenager's father had been killed by gun violence within the past year and Williams dreamed of a football career that would get his family out of the neighborhood.

"He was a kid who hoped to move his mother out of the hood through football," Street pastor Donovan Price said.

Just four hours later, two boys aged 14 and 15 were shot in the 5200-block of Lake Park Avenue outside a Hyde Park McDonald's. Kentrell McNeal, 15, died from his wounds this morning, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office.

McNeal was also a Simeon High School student, and a member of Good Kids Mad City, a youth organization that fights to end violence.

"He was hilarious," said Carlil Pittman, Good Kids Mad City. "That was his biggest trait, but he was protective over his teammates."

Humor was part of who he was and basketball was what McNeal loved, his friends said. His mentor said he worked hard to stave off the haunting statistics that claim so many Chicago children to gun violence.

"It's just a constant reminder that no matter how much we advocate for stuff like this through this work, it can happen to anybody at any time," Pittman said.

Friends, classmates, and coaches gathered to remember the two teenagers lost too soon at a vigil Wednesday evening.

"It's a sad day for our program," said Ro Gordon, who coached McNeal.

"It's like a bond," said friend Elijah Lovemore. "We all close to each other."

These two murders added another painful mark on the hearts and minds of the young people who go to Simeon, with so many saying they have lost multiple classmates each year to gun violence and grief counselors are commonplace.

"It's really sad because we had like multiple kids in our classroom that has passed away, too, and it's like, I feel all of their pain, like it's really sad," said Simeon student Tyler Thomas.

"There's an impact on everybody and the whole school, and it makes us look at the school differently," added senior Kaleb Colone.

Arguably Simeon's most famous and tragic shooting happened to Ben Wilson, the country's leading basketball player who was gunned down during lunch in 1984.

'It's like really painful. A lot of grief, a lot of people crying -- some people don't come to school," said Tamajae Bonds.

"Everyone knows that Simeon students come to JJs after school," Williams said. "We go to potbelly, Walmart. Everybody knows. So for you to sit there and fire 12 rounds, they could hit anybody, not just your target. It's heartbreaking. What if that was somebody you knew? That's not right at all."

It's unclear what led up to the shooting or if Williams was the intended target.

As classmates mourn Williams, another Simeon student was shot hours later Tuesday night, according to police.

The 14-year-old shot in Hyde Park remains in critical condition at University of Chicago Hospital, police said. It is not clear if he is also a Simeon student.

Chicago police said no one is in custody. Area Two detectives are investigating the shooting.