CHICAGO -- Two years ago, a day-care center in a South Side public housing development began teaching 3- to 5-year-olds how to keep from being shot.
As the gunfire of rival gang members became as common by day as it was at night, some of the smallest potential victims
learned to always hold their parent's hand while walking, to walk on main streets out of handgun range and to keep away from windows when shots erupted.
"It got so bad we had to train the children to hit the floor once they heard a gunshot," said Deborah Brewer, director of the Centers for New Horizons. "It's a terrible way to live, but they've adjusted."
Brewer's fears and those of every parent became real last week.
William Berger, 3, died of a gunshot to the head when a stray bullet pierced the window of a third-floor apartment where he and his mother were visiting.
Police arrested Quantis Robinson, 19, and Jerrod Lewis, 16. Police said they found the suspects about a half-block away from the shooting site in possession of two handguns, surrounded by 17 spent shell casings.
The day before, Jonathan Young, 8, who lives in the apartment where the 3-year-old was shot, suffered a graze wound from another stray bullet that came through a window there, his mother, Taia Young, 25, said.
"My daughter constantly runs around holding her ears, saying 'Mommy, mommy, they're shooting at me,' " when she hears gunshots, Young said, referring to her 3-year-old, Brittani. She since has moved her children to the home of a relative.
"I used to fear for their safety and until this happened, I figured it was just something you lived with," Young said. "This was the last straw. I can't deal with it anymore."
FTC Brewer said the housing project, Stateway Gardens, underwent a change in 1989 when drug dealing and violence became commonplace. So she and the director of another day-care center and a local Head Start program director met and decided to teach preschool children how to protect themselves.
Instructors also teach the children to avoid guns and people who own them. Ironically, Brewer said, toy guns often are the first things that new children at the center try to build with plastic blocks.
Brewer said the center tells the children they cannot make play guns. Instructors also drill the children each month to make sure they remember what to do in case gunfire begins.