By Jean Lotus
Maywood police Friday vowed to continue the investigation and arrest and question everyone involved in a massive 300-student brawl that spilled from Proviso East High School on the last day of school May 31. Maywood Police Chief Tim Curry said at least ten students were arrested that day, including a 14-year-old girl wielding two chef's knives who had been previously knocked down and stomped by other students.
Curry said another girl was struck over the eye with a lock and two others received minor injuries. The three injured students were taken to Loyola Medical Center. More than 40 officers from neighboring agencies were called to the scene including Oak Park, Forest Park, Westchester, Bellwood and Broadview. Sheriff's police were also summoned.
"We are very lucky it was fists and feet only," Curry said Friday afternoon. "If it had been a gang incident there might have been weapons."
The fights were recorded on cell phones by students and posted on Youtube and Facebook. The video went viral, showing up on Chicago news reports on channels 5 and 7 and in the Chicago Tribune. Nationally the Huffington Post and Drudge Report websites both ran the story and linked to raw video.
According to the Cook County Sheriff's office, the fights began in the park across the street from the school and in the streets surrounding the area at 9:30 a.m. when school was dismissed for the last day.
But Proviso Township High School District 209 released a statement June 7 criticizing media coverage and asserting that the events happened at Ninth Street and Madison, where the videos were filmed.
"District officials were not made aware of the fighting that occurred until later in the day, since it occurred off campus and falls outside of the district's jurisdiction," the statement said. The district's statement also downplayed the number of students involved, numbering the participants as "several students" and asserting that "other adults and former students joined in the disturbance."
"We take safety and security of our students, staff, and school environment very seriously," the D 209 statement continued. "That is the reason that extra procedures were put into place to ensure a smooth end of school year at Proviso East. Our school year ended without any incident, and we are very pleased to report that."
Curry said the Maywood police commonly make their presence known after school at First Ave. and Madison Street on a daily basis to escort students home, or wait until crowds dissipate.
"We were caught by surprise when school got out at 9:30 in the morning," Curry said.
Curry said the melee tied up police for hours. "The aftermath brought us into several hours, processing the arrested students and finding their parents. We lost much of the day because of this."
The fight is still under investigation and detectives are unsure if it spontaneously occurred or was the result of possible online planning. He said he didn't think it was a gang-related fight.
Curry expressed gratitude to neighboring police departments for coming to the aid of Maywood officers. "The sheer size of the event was challenging," he said.
"There were 300 or more kids involved and many of those kids were involved in the fight or egging it on," he said.
"Many of these kids we arrested were not the fighters," Curry said. "They were charged with obstructing the police or disorderly conduct because they wanted to stick around after we told them to disperse. Instead of going home or trying to stop the fight, some decided to film the fight and put it all over Facebook," Curry added.
Friday Curry said parents needed to make sure they were in communication with their children, "If you see a fight, don't stop and egg it on. That's just feeding the fight. You tell your kids to walk the other way."
Curry, who's retiring next month, said the matter was not the school's fault, but poor choices the students were making, and the lack of support from parents.
He said the Maywood Police works with the school district to refer students to social services to help students learn to "de-escalate aggression and learn different means of dealing with conflict."
Curry said videos will be examined by police to identify the brawlers.
"We will get everybody, I'm sure of that," Curry said.