Suspect bought AK-47 in Indiana
Feds were investigating previous gun purchase
By David Heinzmann
Tribune staff reporter
Published March 15, 2006, 11:43 PM CST
Six months before he allegedly killed 14-year-old Starkesia Reed in a spray of automatic gunfire, gang member Carail Weeks went to Indiana to buy an AK-47.
Weeks already had been under investigation by federal agents for almost two months last September because a gun he had previously bought in Indiana had been seized in an armed robbery arrest, according to law enforcement sources.
But that didn't stop Weeks from going to a suburban Indianapolis gun shop, showing a fake Indiana state identification card, and walking out with two handguns and an AK-47—the type of gun used to kill Starkesia on March 3, the sources said.
As investigators trace the firearms purchased by Weeks, the emerging details provide troubling insights into how guns flow into Englewood and other Chicago neighborhoods.
The murder of Starkesia was followed by the March 11 shooting death of 10-year-old Siretha White, just a few blocks away from where Starkesia was slain. Siretha was killed by a stray bullet that punched through a front window of the house where a surprise birthday was being held for her.
The two killings devastated many in the neighborhood and have renewed calls from Mayor Richard Daley and other elected officials to pass stricter laws limiting the availability of military-style weapons.
Records reviewed by the Tribune show that Weeks filled out a Federal Firearms Transaction form in late June, listing his address as an apartment in Indianapolis and providing an Indiana state ID card to verify his identity. Weeks, who has a history of arrests, but no felony convictions, was then able to buy a Hi-Point 9 mm handgun on July 7, according to records and sources.
Eight days later in Chicago, Thomas Baskin, 22, was arrested on a South Side street minutes after he allegedly robbed a man using the Hi-Point gun. ATF investigators traced the gun back to Weeks' purchase at Don's, a famed Indianapolis gun store that the gun-control group Americans for Gun Safety said is the second-biggest dealer of guns that end up recovered by police in crime scenes.
Weeks was never arrested for allegedly supplying the gun, and on Sept. 13 he walked into Brandi's gun shop in Camby, Ind., a suburb southwest of Indianapolis. Weeks bought the Romanian-made WASR-10 version of the AK-47, and two more Hi-Point pistols—a 9 mm and a .45-caliber, according to sources.
Weeks had potentially broken the law by using false information to buy the guns, and the ATF was investigating him as a potential gun trafficker. It was unclear why federal agents had not arrested him. ATF officials declined to comment on the case Wednesday, saying the investigation was continuing.
Indiana law requires a criminal background check run through a federal database. Unlike Illinois, Indiana does not require a Firearm Owners Identification Card, a state permit to purchase and possess guns. And like many states, Indiana has no limit on how many guns a buyer may purchase at once.
It is illegal to possess a handgun in Chicago, and city ordinance prohibits gun dealers from setting up shop in the city. However, many guns flow into the city from suburban gun shops. Indiana is the largest out-of-state source of crime guns trafficked into Chicago, followed by Mississippi and several other southern states, according to ATF records. Every year, Chicago police seize more than 10,000 illegal guns.
Witnesses said that about 8 a.m. March 3, Weeks drove up to the curb in the 6700 block of South Honore Street, according to prosecutors and police. He allegedly got out and aimed the assault rifle at a man standing on the sidewalk and opened fire.
The intended target, who police said is the ex-boyfriend of Weeks' girlfriend, was not hit by the hail of bullets. But Starkesia, who had stepped to the living-room window to see what caused the noise, was hit in the head by a stray bullet and killed instantly.
Police have not recovered the gun that killed her, but the description witnesses gave and the numerous shell casings recovered at the scene are consistent with an AK-47. The gun was originally developed by the Soviet army, and is the most widely used military assault rifle in the world, according to gun experts.
The guns are designed for use by trained soldiers, not for civilians, said Tom Diaz, a former military small-arms specialist who is now an analyst for the gun-industry watchdog, Violence Policy Center.
"And we're not talking about military engagement, were talking about some miscreant out on the streets who now has an incredible amount of firepower, who is going to—what they used to call 'spray and pray,' " Diaz said.
A week after Starkesia was murdered, a similar tragedy played out just a few blocks away. Siretha White was at a surprise birthday party given for her at a house in the 2000 block of West 70th Place. Outside on the front steps, a group of men, who included gang members and at least one parent of a child at the party, were hanging out when two cars drove down the street and a man started shooting from an open passenger window.
Again, the intended targets were not killed, but a 9 mm bullet pierced the front window of the house and struck Siretha in the head, killing her.
Although some officials have described the gun that killed Siretha as also being an assault weapon, sources familiar with the investigation said forensic testing suggests the gun was a Glock pistol that may have been equipped with a large ammunition magazines.
Sources familiar with the investigation believe that both murder weapons were equipped with magazines that held as many as 30 rounds. One of the elements of the federal Assault Weapons Ban, a federal law that was lifted in 2004, was a prohibition on the manufacture and sale of ammunition magazines that large.
Critics of the ban said it was an ineffective way to keep assault weapons out of the hands of criminals.