Simeon High School students concerned after threats made against school; 2 classmates killed

Simeon High School students Jamari Williams and Kentrell McNeal were killed in separate shooting Tuesday

ByLiz Nagy, Jessica D'Onofrio, Ravi Baichwal, Evelyn Holmes, and ABC7 Chicago Digital Team WLS logo
Friday, September 24, 2021
Students reeling after 2 classmates killed, school threats made
Threats made on social media sparked fear in students after two classmates were killed in separate shootings in the same day.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As a South Side school continues to reel from the loss of two classmates, students are expressing concerns of gun violence and threats against the school.

On Thursday morning, attendance at the South Side high school was noticeably light after alleged threats of violence began popping up on social media.

Chicago Public School officials told ABC7 that a threat was made on social media Wednesday, but that it was deemed "unfounded."

Thursday evening Chicago police said a man from the south suburbs is in custody and that he is responsible for triggering a string of threats to public schools across the city during this vulnerable time.

"It began with a social media post from another state that someone reposted," said CPD Supt. David Brown. "That's the person we have in custody."

"The threat here on the South Side of Chicago struck a deep wound to the Simeon family," said CPD Chief Cato.

CPS officials said in a written statement: The safety of our students and staff is our top priority. We've been made aware of multiple threats recently made on social media posts mentioning the names of several CPS high schools. The Chicago Police Department and CPS Office of Safety and Security are working together to investigate every instance, some of which have been deemed not credible. Out of an abundance of caution, there will be extra police attention at affected schools.

Still, some students were scared away and stayed home.

"People are talking about shooting up the school and stuff. I don't know, people are just crazy nowadays," said Simeon student Damariyon Thomas. 'I just came to school to make sure some of my friends are safe. To be honest, because like I'm one of those friends that make sure everybody is good, so I wanted to make sure everybody is safe."

Students like Thomas, who did come show up to class Thursday, said there have been threats of violence made on social media sparking fear among many.

"The energy, the negative energy -- you can tell -- be feeding off other people, even if some people didn't know the people, but like, it's the energy around the school that makes you sad and cry. You know what I'm saying," said fellow student, Try Ervin.

Simeon High School High School students Jamari Williams and Kentrell McNeal were killed in two separate shootings Tuesday.

Threats made on social media spark fear in students after two classmates were killed in separate shootings in the same day.

An eerie silence now occupies McNeal's room as his grief-stricken family struggles with their sorrow, and his mother with the reality that her only child is gone.

"My sister, her soul is just gone. She can't even speak. She can't talk," said Sade Vantrease, the teen's aunt.

A freshman at Simeon Vocational High School, Kentrell is one of two current students who were gunned down within hours of one another.

The shooting took place Tuesday, a day after Kentrell's 15th birthday.

His stepfather said Kentrell was killed after he and some friends stopped at a Hyde Park McDonald's, near 52nd and Lake Park, before heading to the Simeon-Kenwood football game in the neighborhood.

"They were accosted by some males in the parking lot," said Terrell Jackson, Kentrell's stepfather. "My stepson told his friends, 'Let's go. I don't like what's going on.' And they attempted to leave and somebody shot the car up they were in. That's how he lost his life."

Police said they do have "some promising leads" in McNeal's murder.

Hours earlier, 15-year-old Simeon student Jamari Williams was killed in a separate shooting down the street from the school after students were let out early for the day.

Jamari Williams died Tuesday after being shot in front of Chatham shops frequented by Simeon students after school.

Police are still looking for help finding who shot Williams.

"There's definitely people in the community that have information," said Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan. "There's definitely people who know who committed these crimes and the detectives need those tips."

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.

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.

The brothers of slain Simeon High School basketball star Ben Wilson are turning to forgiveness after their brother's death.

Kentrell's family said he'll also be remembered for his love of basketball - and his membership in a youth group fighting to end violence in the city.

"Both of us, we had 7th period together and that was music. He would always be making everybody laugh. He was real cool," Thomas said.

He's also being celebrated by his family for his dedication to his mother, who he always wanted to make proud.

Many students are so used to loss at the school that they call it the "Simeon curse."

"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," said Simeon student, Aie'rianna Williams

Although CPS said those threats of violence are unfounded, many are choosing to stay home until Monday, as they continue to feel the impact of the two tragedies.

"When I think about stuff like that, I think about the family -- losing their son. That's messed up, you know, I would never want my dad or my momma to go through that," Ervin said.

So far, police have released little information about both investigations, however, they have said no one is in custody for either shooting.