URBANA — A 15-year-old boy was sentenced Monday to five years in juvenile prison in connection with his role in a Sept. 14 shootout outside Booker T. Washington STEM Academy in Champaign.
The teen pleaded guilty Sept. 22 before Champaign County Judge Roger Webber to unlawful possession of a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school.
He was one of five youths arrested in connection with the incident in which two groups starting shooting at each other a block away from the school and across the city line in the 1400 block of Eads Street in Urbana while students were outdoors. No one was injured.
Arguing that the teen should be sentenced to prison, Assistant State’s Attorney Edward Brandt gave the judge five pictures from the teen’s phone showing him brandishing a pistol.
The pictures, including one of him holding a gun on a playground, were taken between Aug. 8 and Sept. 8.
Brandt argued that the teen needed substance-abuse treatment, which he could receive in prison, and that his involvement in the “Wild West shootout” showed an escalation from his past crimes of possession of stolen property, motor vehicle theft, resisting police, aggravated battery, car burglaries and mob action.
Brandt noted that the teen had two previous community-based sentences in 2021 and 2022, but had not complied with the conditions of probation, such as going to school or getting help for excessive cannabis use.
“When he saw all the chances he got, he assumed nothing would happen to him,” Brandt said.
Assistant Public Defender Katie Jessup argued her client should be sentenced to probation or at least a continuance on his sentencing to attend a pending appointment with a psychologist and to see what Champaign school district officials intend to do about letting him return to the classroom. Jessup also provided the judge a letter written by the 15-year-old.
“I think I can do better and I know I can do better,” the teen said to Webber.
Siding with the state, Webber said it appeared the teen was only engaging in services like recent counseling to avoid being locked up.
Webber said his cellphone photographs show that the teen wants to appear armed, but conceded there was no overwhelming evidence to show that he was personally firing during the Sept. 14 shootout.
Brandt said the teen was identified by witnesses and video surveillance from the school.
Police recovered two guns, several magazines and almost 400 bullets after they arrested the 15-year-old and four other youths ranging in age from 11 to 18 who have also been charged in connection with the shootout. Their cases remain unresolved.