The Oswego American Legion Post 675’s Veterans Day ceremony, held under sunny skies this past Wednesday, Nov. 11, in Veterans Memorial Plaza in the village’s downtown, was like so many others I’ve attended over the years. Legion commander Joe West led attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance, a local high school student sang the national anthem, a Legion officer placed a wreath at the memorial and the Oswego Fire Protection District’s honor guard fired a salute.
As I stood along Jefferson Street, watching the solemn ceremony, however, I kept hearing the sounds of sirens. At one point, I looked over my shoulder, up the street to the nearby intersection of Routes 25 and 34, and saw a gray Kendall County Sheriff’s Office SUV race through the intersection with siren blaring. And I continued to hear more sirens, but I blocked them out and turned my attention to the ceremony.
Moments after the ceremony, I learned there had been a shooting at 11:09 a.m. in the Boulder Hill subdivision – just as the Veterans Day ceremony took place a few miles away in Oswego. As the honor guard fired its salute to our nation’s veterans during the ceremony, real bullets were flying in Boulder Hill and a 40-year-old woman was shot dead.
The juxtaposition of the ceremony and shooting struck me. As our veterans were being honored and remembered in Oswego, senseless gunfire and tragedy were underway in Boulder Hill, a community that when first developed in the 1950s and 1960s was home to many World War II and Korean War veterans who took advantage of the GI Bill to secure their first mortgages.
Today, Boulder Hill is the home to more than 8,000 residents, an unincorporated community wedged between the still-growing towns of Oswego and Montgomery. Sadly, the subdivision has periodically been the site of gun violence the past two decades, including two separate shootings in early 2018 that left one man dead and prompted the Kendall County Sheriff’s Office, which provides police protection to the subdivision, to host a town hall meeting at the Boulder Hill neighborhood’s Church of the Brethren. That meeting attracted a standing room-only crowd of concerned residents, and they listened as Kendall County Sheriff Dwight Baird, a Boulder Hill native, and other sheriff’s office officials detailed their continuing efforts to control crime and combat gang violence in the subdivision.
Last Wednesday’s shooting provided another tragic reminder that the serious issues facing Boulder Hill are just as pressing as they were two years ago. If Boulder Hill is to remain a good place to live and raise a family, it’s time the Kendall County Board establish a special committee or task force to examine the issues facing the subdivision and come up with specific recommendations and a plan for measures that could be taken to assure its future. The task force could include Boulder Hill residents, selected County Board members, county building and zoning staff and county sheriff’s personnel.
Yes, county government is different than municipal government and it lacks the legal authority under state law to impose municipal-style regulations on unincorporated subdivisions.
But, if there are any additional steps that county government could take in the realm of increased enforcement of existing county building codes and the adoption of new codes, they need to be thoroughly vetted and, if possible, implemented. Boulder Hill’s 8,000-plus residents deserve nothing less.
• John Etheredge is editor of Record Newspapers.