Content warning: loss of life, violence
TeAndre “Dreco” Belcher and “Lul” Terry Wilson, one 16 and the other 17, were murdered on the afternoon of Wednesday, September 26 just steps from the campus of Illinois Tech. The two boys were students at Youth Connection Leadership Academy (YCLA), an alternative high school that holds classes in a rented space north of IIT Tower.
Just after the end of the school day, Belcher and Wilson gathered with a group of classmates who typically share after-school time near the corner of 35th Street and State Street. YCLA’s students are a common feature of the southern edge of campus, where they can be together without having to consider competing gang territories that make it difficult for some to visit others in their homes. At one point, an argument began between a group of people inside a Ford Explorer and the two boys, who fled from the plaza outside IIT Tower two blocks west to the corner of 35th Street and LaSalle Street. The SUV gave chase, and at least two people inside it shot Belcher and Wilson on the busy sidewalk outside the 35th Street Metra station. The shooters fled north on LaSalle Street and then east on 31st Street. The victims were transported to different hospitals, and both passed away within hours.
The two boys both lived in Wentworth Gardens, a Chicago Housing Authority complex located southwest of campus between 37th Street, Pershing Road, Wentworth Avenue, and Princeton Avenue. By enrolling at YCLA, close enough for them to walk to each day, they had hoped to get back on track to career pathways that many young Chicagoans in similar situations never achieve. Alternative schools like YCLA serve youth who have dropped out of traditional schools and are out of work, connecting them to resources that they often lacked in their earlier educational experiences.
Though Belcher had an affiliation with Wentworth Gardens’ MillieWorld/MurdaTown gang, he was working toward a future not marked by that affiliation. His final Facebook status, posted the morning of the day he was killed, discussed retiring from gang work altogether. There is no clear indication whether the shooting that killed Belcher and Wilson was the result of a gang conflict, but children growing up in areas dominated by specific gangs are often passively associated with those gangs regardless of the depth of their individual involvement and can therefore become targets for rival groups.
The day following the death of both boys, YCLA opted to continue with classes. Its usual after-school gathering, though, was much more reserved than earlier in the week. Many of YCLA’s students had lost friends and classmates before, but this loss came at a particularly vulnerable time for the small cohort. The Friday before Belcher and Wilson were killed, a young woman in YCLA’s program had gone missing shortly after being dropped off for school. The conditions surrounding YCLA’s students are a major part of the challenge that alternative schools face: their mission is not just a matter of getting kids into a classroom, but also of providing social support and services that go beyond the basic expectations of education.
A candlelight vigil and balloon release was held at Wentworth Gardens the night after the shooting, during which family and friends came together to remember the boys by their nicknames, Dreco and Lul Terry. Candles were laid out to spell both names, with printed photos taped to posterboard and held by family before being placed next to the lit memorial.
Illinois Tech Public Safety declined to comment for this article, citing lack of jurisdiction due to the fact that the investigation into the shooting is being handled by the Chicago Police Department’s second district. A contact at the department did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
Photo by Destiny Stewart (She/her)