MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Nearly three years after a toddler was killed by gunfire in north Minneapolis, a man faces a second-degree murder charge.

Two-year-old Le’Vonte Jones was in his father’s car when a gun battle broke out – the crossfire hit and killed him. The shooting happened in the late morning of July 8, 2016, near Penn and Lowry avenues.

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Le’Vonte Jones (credit: Jones Family)

“When children are shot and killed, our entire city mourns,” Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said.

Chris Maurice Welch, 34, of Lexington, the alleged shooter, is charged with second-degree murder in the case.

“It’s clear that Mr. Welch who was driving a car shot across his passenger into the van driven by Melvonte Peterson,” said Mike Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney.

When police arrived at the scene, they say they were notified that the children, a 2-year-old and 15-month-old, had been driven to North Memorial Medical Center. That’s where Le’Vonte died from a gunshot wound to the chest.

“I’m thankful for the persistence of the Minneapolis Police Department, the county attorney’s office for not giving up, for staying committed to Leshae and our family during this time,” Pastor Danny Givens said.

Police say video of the incident shows a black Chevrolet Impala stopped at an intersection when the children’s father’s minivan pulled up alongside it. A total of 11 shots were fired. Video shows the minivan pulling away and driving over a curb after the first two shots were fired, according to the criminal complaint.

Police say Welch has always been the prime suspect. He was arrested in 2016 but released because there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him.

Chris Welch (credit: Ramsey County)

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“A number of witnesses have come forward finally. It was a difficult case to put together,” Freeman said.

A witness says the minivan driver and father stole from Welch, and that Welch would kill the man. The complaint also says Welch told a witness he did not mean to shoot a child.

An additional witness says Welch picked him up shortly after the shooting and admitted he just had a shootout. Another witness said Welch said he needed more bullets, showed the witness the gun, and tried to get bullets from the witness.

“We’re thankful for those courageous witnesses that came forth and told their truth,” Givens added.

Le’Vonte’s sister Melina is still healing from her leg wound from the shooting.

“She’s starting back therapy,” said Leshae Jones, mother of Le’Vonte and Melina.

And Le’Vonte’s family is still healing from his death.

“He was a 2-year-old – happy, playful, smart,” Jones said.

But these charges, they say, will help that process.

“At points, it may have felt or seemed hopeless, but for a mother to lose her child – you never give up hope,” Givens said.

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Welch is already in federal prison. He is currently serving a 17-year sentence for firearm possession as a career criminal, and he’s serving that time out of state, but the Minneapolis Police Department says he will be brought here to face this murder charge.

Erin Hassanzadeh