CHICAGO (SUN TIMES MEDIA WIRE) - As Chicago Police search for the people who shot two officers late Tuesday, they're also trying to figure out why the officers were targeted, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.
The officers were in an unmarked tactical van conducting an investigation into a previous gang-related shooting. They were followed to 43rd and Ashland where they came under fire shortly after 9 p.m., said Anthony Guglielmi, the chief spokesman for the police department.
The officers returned fire, but police are unsure whether any of their assailants was shot. Police are looking into whether the officers' investigation of the earlier shooting was compromised.
"It's a miracle the officers are still alive," Guglielmi said Wednesday morning.
The more severely injured officer was shot in the back. The other officer -- the son of a high-ranking Chicago police official -- was hit in the arm and hip. Both are expected to survive. They were taken to Stroger Hospital; one was released Wednesday morning, while the second was out by mid-afternoon. Extra security is being provided for the officers and their families.
Investigators were questioning three "people of interest" in the shooting, which occurred in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, officials said.
The van the officers were sitting in was riddled with bullets. Officers blocked off the cross streets between the shooting scene and Stroger Hospital to allow the officers' ambulances get there quickly on Ashland Avenue.
Police said the shooting happened in the gang territory of the Saints. Investigators suspect the shooters were members of the rival La Raza gang.
As in other parts of the city, police have seen a rise in the use of military-style rifles in the ongoing shooting wars that contributed to Chicago's murder toll of nearly 800 people last year.
A rifle and a handgun were recovered in connection with the officers' shootings. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is checking where the guns were originally purchased, and by whom.
After the shooting, a massive manhunt was launched across the South Side. "Make no mistake, we will find the people responsible for this," police Supt. Eddie Johnson said Tuesday night outside Stroger Hospital.
Police quickly found a vehicle possibly used in the shooting. The gold Chrysler minivan, found at 38th and Racine, appeared to have a bullet hole in the back. No one was inside.
Chris Villanueva, 36, said he was walking back to his car in a strip mall parking lot on Ashland, south of the shooting scene, when he heard about a dozen rapid-fire shots.
"I thought it was fireworks maybe, but around here, you hear gunshots a lot," he said. "Next thing, cops are everywhere."
A woman who declined to give her name said she was waiting for a CTA bus on Ashland when she saw a wave of police cruisers speeding to the scene.
"They weren't messing around," she said. "I've seen shootings, but I've never seen anything like that."
Newly elected Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham issued a statement Wednesday morning decrying the "latest unprovoked attack on police officers doing nothing more than carrying out their sworn duties."
Graham said the incident "highlights yet again the dangers police officers in Chicago and all across the country are faced with every day. I hope politicians and the media realize how dangerous police work truly is and what courage officers demonstrate each and every day, as this shooting illuminates."
TV news trucks are about the only sign of Tuesday night's shooting near 43rd Street and Ashland Avenue. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-TimesHundreds of officers from across the city had swarmed the area in the hours after the shooting. Dozens more congregated at the hospital. Mayor Rahm Emanuel visited the officers and their families before leaving about 10:35 p.m.
"We're praying for the officers and hoping for a full recovery, and we're praying for all the officers continuing this investigation," Ald. Patrick Thompson (11th) said outside the hospital. "This act of senseless gun violence . . . shows we need to do something."
Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) said the "continuation of the gang and gun violence that we've seen is now hitting home. We've seen it impact our children, we've seen it impact our families, and now we're seeing it impact our police department."
In an emailed statement, Lopez and Thompson wrote: "We are in close communication with the 9th District Commander and officers, and we urge anyone with any information regarding this shooting to come forward immediately to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to swift justice.
"While the details of this horrific incident remain unclear, what we know for certain is that the gun violence that has terrorized Back of the Yards and communities all across our city must end."