A year and a half after a Des Plaines police officer accidentally shot a promising young guitarist at a Northwest Side music school, the department’s chief is finally speaking publicly — and raising questions about how the teenager’s devastating injuries occurred.
“We just didn’t feel that the full picture and the totality of the events that occurred that evening were made clear to the community,” Des Plaines Police Chief David Anderson told the Chicago Sun-Times on Monday.
Anderson, who has been chief for about four months, said that after repeatedly reviewing security video from UpBeat Music & Arts, he is uncertain whether Des Plaines Police Officer James Armstrong actually struck Rylan Wilder, a budding musician working as an intern at the store on the evening of Nov. 19, 2019, when he was shot.
“If you listen to the video, what I hear is the potential of a shot being fired just prior to Officer Armstrong firing his weapon,” Anderson said.
Rylan’s shooting stemmed from a bank robbery in Des Plaines that led to a police chase into the city. One of the alleged bank robbers, Maurice Murphy, was arrested not far from the bank. The other man, Christopher Willis, carjacked a Buick and made it to the Northwest Side, where he opened fire, injuring a veteran police officer.
Willis then ran into the music store, and Armstrong chased after him. When Willis raised his gun, Armstrong shot and killed him, Chicago police said at the time. The officer also accidentally shot a fleeing Rylan during the incident, CPD has said.
“That person [Willis] was armed and there’s, in my opinion, a possibility that he could have fired a round in that store also. I just can’t prove that. I can’t confirm that right now,” Anderson said.
The Wilder family attorney, Tim Cavanagh, said it’s clear who shot Rylan.
“The suggestion that anyone other than a Des Plaines police officer shot Rylan Wilder is nonsense,” Cavanagh said. “The video makes very clear that the bullet that struck Rylan’s arm came from a military weapon held by Officer Armstrong.”
In a lawsuit filed in Cook County, the Wilders claim that Armstrong’s use of force was “excessive” and that it constituted “reckless, willful and wanton conduct.”
Before the shooting, Rylan’s band, Monarchy Over Monday, had played at Riot Fest and the House of Blues. Since that November 2019 day, Rylan has required multiple surgeries to repair the extensive damage done to his left arm, and doctors aren’t certain whether he’ll ever regain full use of the limb.
Armstrong could not be reached for comment Monday. In a sworn statement he gave to an outside company the City of Des Plaines brought in to investigate the incident, Armstrong said Willis at one point “with the firearm in hand, started pointing it in my direction.” Armstrong said he’d previously ordered Willis to drop his weapon. He also said he didn’t see Rylan run into his line of fire.
Chief Anderson said Armstrong, who remains with the department, did “the absolute best he could under a very difficult situation.”
But why, given the potential to injure innocent bystanders, did Armstrong open fire in the music store?
“We train our officers, especially with an active shooter, to go in and deal with the threat as quickly as possible because that eliminates hostage situations. It eliminates the potential for other bad outcomes,” Anderson said.
He pointed out that prior to rushing into the music store, Willis had already fired at and struck a police officer.
“Officer Armstrong was trying to stop a very violent, active shooter,” he said. “These are very dynamic, difficult events.”
And asked why the pursuit wasn’t handed over to Chicago police when Willis entered the city, Anderson said: “Jim was obviously one of the closest vehicles because he ended up hitting [Willis’] car. So I don’t know that that would have been a realistic option for him to turn that over without potentially losing contact with the suspect.”
Anderson said there is police bodycam video of the incident inside the store but that there is “a lot of camera movement,” making it of little use.
Of what happened to Rylan, Anderson said: “I feel such sympathy for that young man. It had to be a terrifying event for him, just like all the other students in the store at the same time, and the teachers.”