Monday was the deadliest day in Chicago in 13 years, and 10-year-old Tavon Tanner got caught in the worst of the gun violence as he played with his twin sister on the porch of his Lawndale home.
It was still light outside when Tavon and his family heard gunshots down the street Monday evening. A man in his early 20s had been shot in the head at a basketball court where Tavon was not allowed to play. Two hours later, an older man was shot and killed about four blocks away.
Less than an hour later, someone fired as many as nine shots in front of Tavon’s home in the 3900 block of West Polk Street, hitting the fifth-grader in the back. He collapsed as he followed his mother through the front door.
“I can’t breathe,” he kept yelling, banging his fists against the floor, according to his mother, Mellanie Washington.
Washington and her sister, Harmonie Murphy, rushed to the boy’s side. “He started gasping for air,” said Murphy, 33. “His eyes rolled back. … He was telling us that it was burning.”
A police sergeant ran up to the porch and helped Murphy and Washington undress the boy to find where he had been shot, according to the mother and aunt. They turned him over and saw a gunshot wound to his lower back.
Tavon’s twin sister, Taniyah, sat next to him, holding his hand, trying to keep him calm, according to Washington. “Twin don’t leave me, twin don’t leave me,” she kept yelling.
Tavon continued beating the floor with his hands from the pain. Then he went limp and started vomiting blood, his mother and aunt said.
The sergeant ran to his squad car and brought back a first aid bag, they said. He took out gauze and applied it to the wound, putting pressure on it until paramedics arrived and put Tavon on the stretcher and took him away in an ambulance, the family said.
Tavon was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he underwent nearly four hours of surgery, Washington said. The bullet damaged his pancreas, intestines, kidney and spleen as it entered his lower back and lodged in his chest, she said.
Doctors removed the boy’s spleen and repaired the other organs but did not remove the bullet for now, Washington said. Tavon remained in critical condition and was heavily sedated.
Tavon was among 19 people shot Monday in Chicago. Nine of them were killed, marking the most homicides in a single day in the city since July 5, 2003, when 10 homicides were recorded, according to a Tribune analysis of police data.
The toll included Loreal Lucas, 61, killed on the porch of his South Side home in front of his 3-year-old great-nephew; a 24-year-old man killed as he drove a Lexus on the Southwest Side; a 44-year-old man shot dead as he stood with two friends on the South Side.
More than 2,500 people have been shot in the city so far this year, a pace of gun violence not seen here since the late 1990s. There have been at least 426 homicides.
The 11th District, where Tevon’s family lives, has been hit particularly hard. The number of people shot and the number of people killed there already exceed the numbers from all of last year. The district has recorded 355 people shot and 54 homicides this year, compared with 350 people shot and 49 homicides last year.
Police reported no one in custody in any of Monday’s shootings, including Tavon’s.
As the boy underwent surgery at Mount Sinai, Washington, Murphy and about a dozen other family members and friends stood outside, some pacing and talking in hushed tones.
Washington, dressed in a pink shirt and pink-purple pants, smoked cigarette after cigarette. She clutched a white pocket-size Bible a nurse gave her. The nurse took a moment to pray with her, she said.
“My son didn’t do nothing to anyone,” Washington said. “None of us did. … I don’t understand this.”
She said she moved with her children to the home on Polk only about a year ago, and she doesn’t know many people on the block.
Tavon, who is to start fifth grade at a charter school, loves playing video games and basketball. There is a basketball court on the block where the family lives, but Washington said she does not let him or her other children play outside or go anywhere farther than the porch or the backyard.
Washington is a single mother of four and works as a dietary assistant. She enrolled the twins and her youngest, a 7-year-old boy, into a summer camp with Chicago Youth Programs. Washington’s 19-year-old daughter works but looks after the children when she can.
As Washington talked outside the hospital, relatives of another shooting victim could be heard screaming on the sidewalk across Ogden Avenue. Washington paused and looked toward them. The group was grieving the death of the 28-year-old man who was shot in the 3500 block of West Grenshaw Street about an hour before Tavon was shot.
Washington’s sister stood next to her. Tears streamed down her face as she recounted the shooting. “It was like on TV,” Murphy said. “I never imagined this would happen.”
She wiped away her tears. “It seems like the more you talk about this (violence), the more it’s gonna keep happening.”
Washington and Murphy said they had heard another set of shots about three hours before Tavon was wounded, around 7:25 p.m. They struck 22-year-old Ireal Mitchell in the 800 block of South Springfield Avenue, across from the basketball court that is off-limits for Washington’s children.
The Rev. Tim Williams, who said he knew Mitchell, sat on the porch of his home on Polk on Monday night after getting back from consoling Mitchell’s family at Stroger Hospital. Williams said he saw himself as a mentor to Mitchell and would often take him to his church. He had just gotten back from the hospital when gunfire erupted again, this time hitting Tavon who lives next door.
Williams said he ran inside the house when he heard the shots and looked out the window to see a muzzle flash in a vacant lot. Moments before, he had seen Tavon outside his home, kicking the gate with his foot.
“He was just playing around,” Williams said.
Williams said his own mother was outside seconds before the shooting. “I just got my momma out the car from the choir rehearsal,” he said. “I walked her to the bedroom and then pa-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta. … That could have been my momma.”
Williams, dressed in a red cap and a white T-shirt, stood next to the yellow crime tape on Polk east of Pulaski Road. A smaller section was cordoned off with red tape. Officers found at least nine shell casings on the street.
As Williams talked, he stood next to neighbors who overheard him say the 22-year-old man had died.
“He didn’t die, did he?” a woman said.
“I’m sorry to tell you,” Williams replied. “I didn’t know you didn’t know.”
“No!” the woman said. “What?”
“Yeah, I was at the hospital,” he said. “It was sad.”
As the neighbors talked, two detectives walked up.
“Do you mind if we talk to you?” one detective said from the sidewalk, addressing Donna Gardner, 45, who stood on the porch of her home, behind a black-railed gate.
Gardner and two other women next to her began talking to the detectives, and Gardner’s voice grew louder and louder.
“Where is my tax money going? You all shouldn’t have to walk down this block and ask people what happened when there is a camera there,” she said, referring to a police camera at Springfield and Polk. “A guy got shot down there right by the camera. … He is dead and don’t nobody know what happened, and there is a camera there.”
“We’re trying to help the 10-year-old boy …” began one of the detectives before Gardner cut him off.
“I’m trying to help too,” Gardner said, raising her voice even more. “But you don’t help me. I owe $800 now in tickets. … You’re psychotically putting tickets on cars …”
“Have a nice night,” one of the detectives said.
He and his partner walked away to talk to other neighbors.
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