A 31-year-old Willowbrook man was killed in a mass shooting early Sunday at a strip mall near Willowbrook during a Juneteenth celebration.
DuPage County Coroner Richard Jorgensen on Monday identified the shooting victim as Reginald Meadows. The coroner’s office determined his preliminary cause of death was a fatal gunshot wound to the abdomen.
What started as a peaceful gathering in a parking lot near Honeysuckle Rose Lane and Route 83 about 6 p.m. Saturday ended in gunfire shortly after midnight Sunday morning. Authorities said at least 23 people were shot, including Meadows, and several others were hurt trying to flee the area.
“He was a really good man,” a woman who only identified herself as Natalie said of Meadows, who was close with one of Natalie’s aunts. “He was very family-oriented.
“It’s just sad that he lost his life because he was a really good guy,” she said, adding she often saw him with his children. “He had a really good heart.”
Sheriff’s deputies had been monitoring the gathering, which some witnesses said numbered in the hundreds at a strip mall parking lot. But the deputies were called away about 12:25 a.m. for a fight at another location. As they were responding to that call, they heard gunshots at the Juneteenth celebration and immediately returned.
“The motive behind this incident is unclear,” Eric Swanson, the sheriff’s deputy chief, said during a news conference Sunday morning. “We transported numerous victims from the scene. Others just walked into area hospitals.”
On Monday, the sheriff’s office said investigators were trying to locate additional witnesses and victims who may not have sought medical attention for their injuries.
Evidence technicians were in the process of collecting evidence from vehicles left at the strip mall lot and video evidence obtained from the businesses near the shooting. Ballistic evidence also was being processed.
Nichelle Peterson was among those who were in the parking lot of the strip mall when gunfire erupted.
The Chicago woman was with friends at the celebration and had just moved her car in the parking lot and was walking to the passenger side.
“As I’m walking back, that’s when they start shooting, so I duck and it was least 10 rounds before I jumped in my car,” said Peterson, who took cover in her SUV with her aunt.
All of her car windows were down and bullets whizzed past her in the car. She was grazed by at least four bullets, she said. She estimates at least 30 bullets went through her car.
“You could smell the smoke and there were people underneath my car,” she said, adding her friend took cover underneath her car.
Once the shooting stopped, she ran to a friend’s nearby apartment. One of her friends took her to the hospital to be treated for her injuries.
“This is my first year coming out here and of course my first time coming out here this happens,” the Hinsdale South High School alum said.
Like others, Peterson thinks the celebration, which attracted hundreds, grew out of control.
“Maybe too many people around too many people ... too many people around maybe people they didn’t mix with, whatever the case may be I don’t know,” she said, noting one of her friends had blood all over her clothes from another victim. “But why shoot up the crowd. You know, it’s ridiculous.”
Others echoed similar sentiment.
“We just need to get better,” Natalie said. “People just need to start respecting each other more.”
The sheriff’s office said their shooting investigation has “continued nonstop,” but released no additional details.
• Daily Herald staff writer Alicia Fabbre contributed to this report.