By Andrew Stern
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Seven-year-old Heaven Sutton was selling cold drinks and candy at a street stand with her mother when she was shot to death, becoming the 253rd victim this year of Chicago's surging murder rate, police said on Thursday.
Sutton and her mother, Ashake Banks, were about to close up their stand on Wednesday night when two men approached and began shooting. Heaven was shot in the chest, and a 19-year-old man standing nearby was wounded in the leg, police said.
"This is not about crime. This is about values. Take your gang conflict away from a 7-year-old," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel angrily told reporters.
"You have a 7-year-old selling lemonade," he said. "Where were you raised and who raised you? Stay away from the kids."
Emanuel pledged to make Chicago's streets safe when he became mayor last year.
Chicago Police Chief Garry McCarthy, who has sought to counter a 37 percent rise in murders so far this year, said police had strong leads in the case but no arrests had been made.
Most of the 253 murders so far this year in the nation's third-largest city have occurred in impoverished neighborhoods on the South and West Sides.
Frequent shootings in Heaven Sutton's West Side neighborhood had prompted her to plead with her mother to move.
"'Mom, let's move, I want to move, Mom, I'm so anxious'," Sutton had begged her mother, Banks said in an interview with local radio. Sutton was excited about an upcoming family vacation, and wanted them to move when they returned.
Banks urged the killer to turn himself in, saying of her daughter, "she didn't have to die because he was trying to kill somebody else."
The city this week gave a $1 million grant to an intervention group, CeaseFire, which hires former gang members as counselors who try to interrupt the cycles of revenge killings.
Analysts have said a number of factors may be at work, including high jobless rates, a splintering of street gangs fighting over turf and drug-dealing, and unusually warm weather that has drawn people outside and into the line of fire.
Federal law enforcement agencies are also active in the effort to combat the epidemic of street violence, said Thomas Ahearn, an agent in the Chicago office of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
"There's no way of knowing how many guns are in this area," Ahearn said, adding all seized guns are tracked back to their source and their last legal owner.
Straw purchases, in which someone buys guns legally then resells them to gang members, are a big problem, Ahearn said. The third-largest source of guns used in crimes in Chicago after Illinois and neighboring Indiana is Mississippi, where numerous Chicago gangs have contacts, he said.
(Editing by James Dalgleish)