In early February, River Forest resident Jon Reith, a graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School and lifelong resident of the area, joined a growing number of residents who have been carjacking victims.
There have been at least six carjackings or attempted carjackings in Oak Park since the beginning of the year, and at least two other thefts of vehicles that were left running and unattended.
Reith wasn't the only victim of the armed carjacking that took place in the parking lot next to Kids Unlimited Therapy Services, 820 North Boulevard, on the evening of Monday, Jan. 4 – his two small children, ages 4 and 5, were in the back seat of the car when he was robbed of his vehicle at gunpoint.
"Give me you f---ing keys; we're taking the f---ing car. Get out of the car before I f---ing kill you," Reith heard screaming from behind as four juvenile males and a woman approached him from behind, sticking a hard, metal object in his back that he believes was a handgun.
This was at about 5:55 p.m., moments after he picked up his two children from Kids Unlimited and strapped them into their child seats in the back seat of his 2018 Subaru Outback.
"Someone else came and pushed me aside and got in the car and at that point I said, 'My kids are in the car,'" he said in a recent interview. "I opened the back door and jumped in the back seat and just started unbuckling them frantically."
Reith handed over his keys and cellphone to bide his time. "I just kept saying, 'I've got to get my kids. I've got to get my kids. I've got to get my kids."
Both children, not knowing what was happening, began crying. More than a week later they're still both traumatized by the event, he said.
Reith retrieved the kids and the four offenders piled in and sped off. Reith's wife was inside the Kids Unlimited during the majority of the event, coming out only in time to see the four strangers driving off eastbound on North Boulevard.
Police were on the scene in minutes, Reith told Wednesday Journal and less than 10 minutes later his vehicle had been located – the carjackers had crashed into another vehicle near the corner of Washington Boulevard and South Ridgeland Avenue.
The three juveniles fled the vehicle. They were captured within the next few hours by Oak Park police.
All three juveniles were Chicago residents and each was charged with one count of aggravated vehicular hijacking and two counts of aggravated vehicular hijacking for a person under the age of 16, Oak Park Police Chief LaDon Reynolds said in a telephone interview.
The woman connected to the crime, the only person over the age of 17 in the group, did not leave the scene of the crash and was not charged with a crime.
It is at least the sixth carjacking or carjacking attempt that's taken place in Oak Park since Jan. 1, most of them within a block or two of the CTA Green and Blue lines, including the following:
- Feb. 4, in the 800 block of North Boulevard at 6 p.m.
- Jan. 23, in the 1100 block of South Harvey Avenue at 6:33 p.m.
- Jan. 20, in the 1100 block of South Taylor Avenue at 6:28 p.m.
- Jan. 17, in the 700 block of Garfield Street at 10:26 p.m.
- Jan. 8, in the 400 block of South Maple Avenue at 6:30 p.m.
- Jan. 4, in the 200 block of South Oak Park Avenue at 8:20 p.m.
At least two other car thefts have taken place over the last six weeks, where individuals stole vehicles that were left running. Those took place in the 100 block of North Cuyler Avenue on Jan. 26 at 3:10 p.m. and in the 6800 block of Roosevelt Road on Jan. 8 at 6:17 p.m.
Reynolds told Wednesday Journal that although carjackings are on the uptick like this time last year, the good news is the Cook County Sheriff's Office's creation of a carjacking database has helped solve more crimes.
He said that through the database, established last summer, communities are better communicating about individuals involved in carjackings.
Reynolds called it a "Chicagoland problem" but working with other departments has led to the arrests of seven individuals in two of the cases. Oak Park investigators also have "very good leads" in two other cases, he said.
Arrests often don't happen for several months after the crime takes place.
"We have more intelligence, we have more information and we have a more enhanced structure in place to make arrests faster," he said.
Meanwhile, Reith is still trying to pick up the pieces of his life, and Kids Unlimited is trying to figure out how to make sure this never happens again.
Ken Kreis, business manager at Kids Unlimited, acknowledged the lack of decent lighting in the parking lot in a telephone interview, but he noted that the lot is owned by the village of Oak Park.
He said the business has put in a call to the village to figure out ways to make the lot safer, and they're talking with an Oak Park beat officer to get more information to staff on how to safely enter and exit the building.
Reith said he just wants to get the information out about his experience, so his friends and neighbors are aware of the potential danger in the village.
"The thought of them not knowing that the kids had to experience this, and the general public not knowing the kids had to experience this is a tragedy to me," he said. "They should know when it happened, where it happened, how it happened and who was involved. That's my only goal."
Answer Book 2019
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