With the Rogers Park community still on edge after two shootings at the beginning of the month by a suspect still at large, students, community members and businesses share a common goal to make the neighborhood feel safe again.
Following increased community awareness around Rogers Park, student Facebook groups such as “Roam RoPo” have popped up, while the ride-sharing service, Lyft, has offered 50 percent off to Rogers Park community members through the 49th Ward office until the end of the month.
This comes after 73-year-old Douglass Watts was killed Sept. 30 while walking his dog about 1.5 miles away from campus. The following day, 24-year-old Eliyahu Moscowitz was shot dead near Loyola Park, just over a mile from campus. Chicago police believe Watts and Moscowitz were killed by the same suspect, who’s still at large at the time of publication.
The student Facebook page “Roam RoPo” — RoPo being short for Rogers Park — was created Sept. 29 by junior accounting student Ryan McMullin. McMullin said he and his friends reach out to one another to share information and walk together and he wanted all students to have a similar space.
“I was thinking what would I do, or how would I feel if I didn’t have that support system around, so my intentions were to give people that bridge to connect with others if they ever felt unsafe,” McMullin said.
Other community Facebook groups — such as “Rogers Park Neighborhood News” — intended for neighbors to share recommendations and events have seen an increase in crime related posts following the incidents.
Alderman Joe Moore (49th Ward) and the Chicago Police Department (CPD) held a community meeting Oct. 3, where about 500 Rogers Park residents gathered to hear from police and ask questions about the shootings, The Phoenix reported.
On Oct. 10 Moore sent an email newsletter to residents announcing the neighborhood would be working with the ride-sharing company Lyft to offer transportation at a discount in Rogers Park.
Residents are allowed two 50 percent off Lyft discount coupons, available at Moore’s office at 7356 N. Greenview Ave. Moore also offered to mail the cards to residents if they email him at email@example.com, according to Moore’s email newsletter.
Moore wrote in the email he hopes the discount will provide a sense of comfort to Rogers Park residents wary of going out since the shootings. According to Moore’s email, local businesses have seen a decrease in customers since the shootings and he hopes Lyft’s partnership will draw customers back to local shops.
In an email statement to The Phoenix, a Lyft spokesperson said the company was happy to help residents get to their destinations safely.
“Alderman Moore approached us, interested in ensuring his constituents had access to safe and affordable transportation,” the email said. “As always, we’re eager to support Chicagoans and get them where they need to go.”
Senior advertising and public relations student Christa Cecala is among the students using alternative transportation to get around Rogers Park.
“I have been taking Ubers from Mertz to my apartment, which is only a few blocks away,” Cecala said, referring to Mertz Residence Hall on the Lake Shore Campus. “It’s scary walking, even during the day, since the shootings happened both at night and during the day.”
“Roam RoPo” gained popularity as students looked for ways home and a place to hear crime updates, with almost 4,000 members at the time of publication. McMullin said he was surprised but happy with the page’s growth.
“The whole purpose was to give people that medium of communication that they need. [And] while at times it hasn’t served that, at least I gave it a shot,” McMullin said. “For people who want to use it, I hope to God they do.”
Some members of the page have posted information about things that didn’t happen — including sightings of the shooter near campus or close by gunshots.
On Oct. 4, posts claimed the suspect was near Granville Avenue, and on Oct. 12 a student claimed they heard the suspect was walking toward campus.
Police responded to rumors and concerns at a community meeting, clarifying the suspect hasn’t been seen since the shooting of Moscowitz Oct. 1. CPD spokesman Glen Brooks said Loyola students should be sure all information they spread is accurate, The Phoenix reported.
Aneeta Polakkattil, a first-year studying biology, said she believes speculation on the page was more hurtful than helpful.
“Initially, I thought it was a great group to be aware of what was going on, but it also gave me a lot of paranoia and a lot of people were over exaggerating,” Polakkattil said. “But I appreciate getting a third party view of what’s going on — not just Loyola and CPD.”
Stefi Hernandez, a senior majoring in communication studies, said she was excited for students to have a place to share information and create community, but concern arose when posts about “sketchy” people popped up on her newsfeed.
“As students started posting to be wary of certain people, people who fit the description of the [suspect], I thought there needs to be some sort of awareness of how we use our language because fear is going to turn into hypersensitivity that can put other students in danger,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said after her post about being mindful of vague descriptions and coded language was deleted, she felt compelled to create another group called “Roam RoPo 2.0,” which has about 620 members as of publication.
“I created [Roam RoPo 2.0] to create an environment where we can talk about safety and also be really mindful of everyone’s definition of safety and we can understand how important it is to be inclusive in that conversation,” Hernandez said.
Campus Safety sent an email to students Oct. 10 reminding students to “stay vigilant” as Loyola monitors the situation and CPD continues to investigate.
The email outlined services such as Loyola’s free van transportation, 8-RIDE, and Campus Safety dispatch to help students get around campus safely. Campus Safety also asked students with any information about the homicides to contact CPD at 312-744-8263 or CPDtip.com.
Campus Safety director Thomas Murray didn’t respond to The Phoenix’s request for comment.