First reported 8/1/2009 3:46 p.m.
Six people attending a funeral Saturday morning in Austin were injured in a shooting just outside the church where services were taking place.
Witnesses inside Gospel Truth Life Changing Ministries, 5301 W. Madison, said the funeral had just started when they heard shots.
Four men and two women were shot outside the church, their ages ranging from 27 to 45, according to Chicago Police. The victims were taken to area hospitals with injuries that were not life-threatening, according to a Chicago Fire Department official at the scene on Saturday. The official added that one of the victims was grazed by a shot and that the others suffered penetrating wounds.
On Sunday, parishioners gathered at the church to call for an end to the violence that has plagued Austin this year. On Tuesday, clergy and activists hosted a press conference outside Gospel Truth, also calling for the violence to end and to ask for help in finding the shooter from Saturday, whom witnesses said was on foot and fled.
Police blocked off Madison from Laramie to Long streets on Saturday shortly after the shooting. A witness inside the church told Austin Weekly News that the funeral began at 11 a.m. and that she heard shots half an hour later. About 400 people were inside the church. Witnesses said people dove for the floor after hearing gunshots and that they began moving to the front of the sanctuary.
A swarm of police cars descended on the church following the shooting. The funeral was for 28-year-old Cornelius Antwon Robinson, whom mourners said had died of heart disease. Police said he was a known gang member and suspect that the shooting was gang-related. They suspect the shooter was targeting one person and that the other victims were unintended.
Rev. Renaldo Kyles of Mount Hermon Baptist Church on the South Side, a guest pastor helping to officiate Saturday’s funeral, said he heard the shots but didn’t know who was struck.
“It’s very unfortunate. Antwon was a good young man, a Christian young man, and for this to happen during his home-going is totally disrespectful to the family,” Kyles said. “This is a society issue. We really have to get these guns off the street.”
Remarkably, church leaders were able to resume calm inside, had everyone pray, and then tried to continue with the service until it was safe for people to go outside, said Shelita Harris, a friend of the victim.
Harris, who’s six months pregnant and was sitting near the front of the church, said she dove to the floor and started crawling to the front after hearing the gun blast.
“The shots was loud. We thought they were coming from inside the church, so everybody started running toward the front. That’s all I remember,” Harris said.
Shortly after the shooting, two men and two women were seen being taken away by ambulances. One of the men had a bandage on his foot. Another victim, an elderly woman, was wheeled out of the church on a stretcher, suffering from chest pains related to asthma, according to police.
Just blocks away that morning at Mandell United Methodist Church, 5000 W. Congress Parkway, a anti-violence block party hosted by the church was taken place. A Chicago Police spokesman told Austin Weekly News that an investigation is under way.
Delores McCain and Bill Dwyer contributed to this report.