Of 50 victims, young minorities harmed most by flurry of Champaign gun violence

By Heather Robinson / For CU-CitizenAccess and Andrew Prozorovsky / For CU-CitizenAccess

August 25, 2022

A map of shootings in Champaign from Jan. 1, 2016 to Nov. 15, 2021. It was released in the Community Violence Reduction Blueprint, which was released in February 2022.

There were 50 lethal shootings in the city of Champaign between 2015 and the first half of 2022.

Of those 50 victims, 15 were 20 years old or younger. 

At least 30 suspects were arrested in those shootings, and 15 of them were also aged 20 or younger.

Those were some of the numbers revealed in a database compiled by CU-CitizenAccess of the 50 homicides. The database doesn’t capture the full extent of rampant gun violence in the Champaign-Urbana area, but it serves as a snapshot of the violence by looking at the most deadly incidents in Champaign.

Not all of this information was compiled from the same sources of information, as police records varied. Some records were obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request and others were verified through local news outlets. 

In 2022, there were three lethal shootings in Champaign as of August 1, a decrease from nine homicides in the same time period last year. There have been 80 total shootings in Champaign this year as of August 1, about a 50% decrease compared with 156 total shootings last year.

Community gun violence has soared from 2019 to 2021. Prior reporting and press releases from the City of Champaign and local law enforcement indicate that local gangs are responsible in part, though there is virtually no reporting that names these gangs or provides any details on their networks. 

Because of that, it is difficult to definitively state how many of the gun homicides are attributable to gang networks, though similar profiles of those involved and the manner of murder — similar drive-by shootings or shots in the head — indicate related violence.

The typical victim of gun violence in Champaign-Urbana is a young, Black male. The typical perpetrator fits the same description, although shooters are not known in all cases, accounting for around 25 of the shootings with a suspect.

The Champaign Police Department tracks open homicide investigations on its website.

Previous reporting from CU-CitizenAccess suggested that Champaign shootings have become more frequent in western Champaign. It also highlighted streets most prone to shootings and pointed to gang retaliation as a key factor in these shootings.

The reporting was later corroborated by the City of Champaign’s recently-released “Community Gun Violence Reduction Blueprint.” The 44-page document was made available to the public in February this year.

The city’s blueprint outlines three priorities of local government: to prevent and reduce gun violence and promote community safety, to enhance community engagement and support, and to ensure the most effective use of available and potential resources.

It also identifies several root causes of gun violence: income inequality, poverty, underfunded public housing, under-resourced public services, underperforming schools, lack of opportunity and perceptions of hopelessness and easy access to firearms by high-risk people.

According to the blueprint, and consistent with a CU-CitizenAccess review of available data, “community gun violence disproportionately impacts Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino individuals.”

City staff also developed the “Complete Community Index” using six indicators: (1) Majority-Minority Neighborhoods, (2) neighborhoods with greater than 36% Black/African American residents, (3) neighborhoods with greater than 16% Latino residents, (4) 2019 unemployment rate greater than 10.4%, (5) median household income less than $36,311, and (6) median family income of less than $61,569.

Through overlaid indices, one can observe that the more indicators that hold true for a certain neighborhood, the more likely it is to have high gun violence rates.

The maps provided in the blueprint, which depict all instances of gun violence in Champaign in recent years, was similar to CU-CitizenAccess’s interactive map from 2021.

The neighborhoods that have the most gun violence according to the data are the neighborhoods bookended by Parkland College and Prospect Avenue and the neighborhood around Wesley Park. Another cluster of shootings is present around Clear Lake and next to the Country Fair Shopping Center.

The News-Gazette has released a 21-part series on gun violence, consisting of panels featuring community members from “all walks of life,” addressing the rise in gun violence in the Champaign-Urbana area.

The series covered a variety of topics related to the central issue of gun violence, but a lot of the discussion focuses on the young people involved in gun violence – those aged 20 and below. Panel members talk about how children and young adults are somehow getting ahold of illegal firearms, and how they are doing it because they don’t feel safe.

Among the many panel members were friends and family members of local shooting victims who lost their lives. They described the pain and trauma the killings have caused them, and how they have coped in different ways. 

Below are the stories of just a few of the young victims of local gun violence from the past few years.

David C. Sankey, age 16

David C. Sankey is just outside his home in Garden Hills one summer night in August 2018, when he is shot in the head. Witnesses who hear the shots fired call the police. Police respond to the scene, transporting Sankey to Carle Foundation Hospital, where he is pronounced dead at 10:34 p.m. 

Sankey was just 16 years old when he lost his life to gun violence. The original suspect, who was arrested months later, was 19-year-old Darrion White. His murder charges were later dismissed, though he was sentenced to 10 years in jail on weapons charges. Last January, the City of Champaign created a new youth center in honor of Sankey. The center aims to help young, at-risk youth towards resources like mentorship, counseling and job training. 

Jonathan McPhearson, age 17

17-year-old Jonathan McPhearson leaves Centennial High School on Thursday, September 30, 2021. Around 5:30pm that day, McPhearson is sitting on the side of West Kirby Avenue with another individual when suddenly, a masked group approaches and fires at them. McPhearson is taken to the hospital in critical condition, and dies later that evening after relatives had a last chance to say goodbye. He leaves behind a heartbroken family. The perpetrators have still not been found.

Quansay Markham, age 17

17-year-old Quansay Markham is sitting in his car when someone in a blue car drives up next to him, and shoots him several times. Three children playing outside down the same block hear the shots. When the police find Markham, around 5:30 p.m. near Fifth and Beardsley Avenue, he is still alive, but the bullet wounds have left him with life-threatening injuries. Shell casings are scattered on the ground. Less than an hour later, after being transported to Carle Hospital, Markham is pronounced dead. No witnesses come forward, so the case is never taken to court. 

Markham was previously charged in Elijah Booker’s death in 2019, a 14-year-old victim of gun violence, and a close friend of Markham. The two were at a sleepover together, when the gun went off and hit Booker, killing him, and injuring another one of their friends. State’s Attorney Julia Rietz said she believes the incident with Booker was entirely accidental.

Nicholas Snell, age 20

On the evening of July 30, 2021, police are called to North Willis Drive. It was for a drive-by shooting. The culpable parties stood on the driveway and fired at the house at least 19 times. The 20-year-old Nicholas Snell was hit by four bullets. He was taken to the hospital, where he died from the injuries. Police still haven’t located those responsible.

Jadeen Moore, age 19 and Brandon Kelly, age 20

On Halloween weekend, 2021, two separate incidents of gun violence claimed the lives of 20-year old Brandon Kelly and 19-year old Jadeen Moore. Kelly was among those gathered in a parking lot on the 2000 block of West Bradley Avenue. As police arrive, several vehicles and individuals flee the scene, leaving behind Brandon Kelly, riddled with five bullets. In total, 20 bullets were fired during the shootout. Kelly was transported to the hospital, but died from his wounds. 

Meanwhile Moore dies under similar circumstances. He is present during a gathering in a backyard of an abandoned home in the 1500 block of Holly Hill Drive. Gunfire ensues, and suspects flee the scene. Police arrived to find Moore with a life-threatening gunshot to the chest, which he did not survive.

Jordan Atwater-Lewis, age 17

An 18-year-old is accused of killing a 17-year-old. Police say the incident is attributable to violence between rivaling gangs. It is December 29, 2021. A group, including 17-year old victim Jordan Atwater-Lewis, is inside a house on East Hunter Street. They notice, through social media, that several rivals are near the house. At 8 p.m., Atwater-Lewis arms himself and steps outside the home. Then gunfire erupts, and the teenager is killed by a bullet to the head. 

It’s Urbana’s 10th fatal shooting of 2021. Security footage allows the police to track down the shooters.