As chaos developed earlier this week around a Washington Park house where activists thought two missing teenage girls were being held, one of the residents, Jaleesa Hall, was in the hospital having just given birth.
Hall, 31, watched Tuesday’s confusion and chaos unfold: from activists claiming the three-unit house was a haven for sex trafficking, to police finding no evidence to support that claim, to a confrontation involving tear gas and more.
By the time it ended, the house had been set on fire — twice — and Hall and her family had been displaced.
“We had nothing to do with this,” Hall said in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “They didn’t have to burn the home.”
About 4:30 am Tuesday, Hall gave birth to a baby girl, Aleeyah.
Shortly after 10 a.m., police arrived at the three-unit house in the 2100 block of North 40th Street as part of an investigation into the two teenage girls, who had been reported missing Sunday.
When police concluded their investigation without finding the girls — or evidence of trafficking — a group of onlookers began their own search of the house.
By the time hours of chaos ended, three people had been shot, including two 14-year-olds; and 10 officers and a firefighter were injured. An unknown number of others were hurt by the tear gas and rubber bullets police fired into a scattered crowd.
The girls, ages 13 and 15, were eventually found by one of their mothers more than three miles away. Police said there was no indication the girls were ever there — or that the house was used for such activity.
Hall said almost all her belongings were destroyed when the house was set on fire.
“We lost everything,” she said. “Like my baby — all her stuff is gone. Clothes, everything that we had. My kids, my kids’ father and all the people that stayed there. We lost everything.”
Hall said she had left her home two days earlier to stay with her brother while she waited to go into labor. After delivering her baby, she watched the saga unfold from her hospital bed.
“I just couldn’t sleep or even rest because of it,” she said.
Local activists said the home was long suspected to be a hub for sex trafficking. But Hall, who lived in the upstairs unit, said she had not seen any suspicious activity.
As a mother of a 2-year-old and a newborn baby, Hall added, she would not have felt safe living in the unit if she had believed her neighbors were engaging in such activity.
“I don’t know where they’re getting this information from,” Hall said.
Jerry Bowie, 30, a family friend who shared the upstairs unit with Hall, said he was helping his aunt move Tuesday and saw news of the unrest on Facebook.
Bowie said the crowd that vandalized the house “did wrong to innocent people that had nothing to do with nothing.”
Both Bowie and Hall said they wished police had done more to stop the crowd from vandalizing the property.
“There definitely could’ve been more police out there,” Hall said.
Although she’s devastated by the loss of her home and belongings, Hall said she’s glad she wasn’t at the house when the unrest broke out.
“It could’ve been worse. It could’ve been much worse,” she said. “I’m just going to take it as a sign from God.”
A GoFundMe page for Hall and her family raised more than $3,000 by Thursday evening. Staff with the American Red Cross also reached out Thursday to provide aid.