Two children, including a 2-year-old toddler, died Tuesday of gunshot wounds as a third clung to life, a spate of almost unthinkable bloodshed that has shaken a city sadly accustomed to violence.
The devastation stretched from a Lawndale alley to a Woodlawn parking lot and West Englewood street and left dozens of family members gathered at hospitals pleading for miracles that would not come.
It started on Saturday night when a 12-year-old girl was gravely wounded by a bullet while playing with friends in the West Englewood neighborhood. Just 30 minutes later and about four miles away, another girl, 11, was shot in the head sitting in a car with her family on the South Side. She died Tuesday morning in her mother’s arms in a hospital.
Hours later, on a sunny, unusually warm Valentine’s Day, the 2-year-old boy was gunned down while riding in the back seat of a car on the city’s West Side — a horrific attack captured on Facebook Live that also left the boy’s 26-year-old uncle dead and the uncle’s girlfriend and her unborn child hospitalized.
The three shootings mark the latest in a more-than-yearlong surge of violence that continues to tarnish Chicago’s image nationally and draw repeated scorn from President Donald Trump.
They also illustrate how quickly innocent children can become victims in some of the city’s most gang-infested neighborhoods, where guns are used to settle the most trivial of scores and bystanders can become collateral damage.
“Our community has to come together to protect our children,” Patsy Holmes, the grandmother of 11-year-old Takiya Holmes, said after the girl was pronounced dead Tuesday. “Our children are innocent (and) getting caught by stray bullets.”
At Stroger Hospital, where Kanari Gentry Bowers, 12, remained in critical condition and on life support, the girl’s family was struggling Tuesday evening to make decisions on what to do, said Pastor Carey Gidron. He called the rising gun violence “unbearable.”
“And you know what’s sick? That they take no sense of care or love for their community,” Gidron said. “They’re not looking where they’re going. … This ends tonight.”
All three shootings remain under investigation.
‘I can’t breathe!’
The latest shooting occurred about 1:30 p.m. in an alley in the 4400 block of West Ogden Avenue in the city’s Lawndale neighborhood.
Police said a 26-year-old man and his pregnant girlfriend were riding in a car with his 2-year-old nephew in the back seat when a gunman emerged from another car and opened fire in the alley, behind an AC Delco auto parts shop.
The boy, Lavontay White Jr., was pronounced dead at Stroger Hospital at 2:43 p.m. Tuesday, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
The boy marks the youngest victim of gun violence in Chicago since 6-month-old Jonylah Watkins was killed in 2013 as her dad changed her diaper in the front passenger seat of a van. The father was also shot several times but survived.
Lavontay’s uncle was shot in the head and died at the scene, but authorities were not releasing his name Tuesday evening because family had not yet been notified. The woman, 20, and her unborn baby were both listed in fair condition at Mount Sinai Hospital. Family members said the baby was about four months along and was expected to survive.
No one was in custody, but investigators suspect the man, a documented gang member, was the intended target, police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said.
“We have very promising leads. We have video,” Johnson said to reporters at the scene. There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll find him.”
The attack was captured on a chilling Facebook Live video the woman was broadcasting as the couple drove in the neighborhood.
The video showed the woman snapping her chewing gum and singing as the car pulled into an alley. Behind her, the boy could briefly be seen dressed in a blue hooded sweatshirt, peering out the window.
Suddenly, the woman stopped smiling and looked to her left. The camera angle dipped to face the windshield as the rapid pop of gunfire could be heard — at least 16 separate shots in the span of about five seconds. The woman appeared to jump from the car and start running along a fence line while still holding the camera. As gunfire continued, the woman screamed.
Even though the camera went black, the audio captured the woman screaming to call 911 because she was concerned about her unborn baby.
“I got a bullet in my stomach!” the woman yelled. “Please! Please! I can’t breathe!”
At the scene, an older-model maroon four-door car had come to rest against an iron fence in the alley, its two front doors open. Bullet holes could be seen in the rear window. Neighbors poked their heads from their porches.
Late Tuesday night, the woman’s family had gathered at Mount Sinai Hospital.
“The thing I am grateful for is we didn’t lose my aunt,” said Naveil Johnson, 24. “She is still alive, and they are doing ultrasounds. But it still hurts that another family had to lose two people unnecessarily.”
Shootings likely gang-related
All three shootings followed an exceptionally bloody year in which more than 760 were killed, most by gun violence. The city and Police Department have faced a barrage of criticism for their seeming inability to stop the shootings. Trump has singled out Chicago’s violence as out of control, tweeting about a half-dozen times, including once saying he would “send in the Feds!” if the city didn’t stop the carnage.
On Monday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel met with White House officials as well as Attorney General Jeff Sessions in part to discuss the need for additional federal assistance in the fight against violence.
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Emanuel said the shootings of the children should be a “turning point” for the city and issued yet another call for tougher gun laws and other measures to keep violent offenders off the streets.
“When innocent children are caught in the crossfire of gun violence and young people have their childhood stolen by stray bullets, our consciences are shaken and our hearts are broken,” Emanuel said.
Since the beginning of 2012, a little more than 250 children under the age of 14 have been shot in Chicago, according to data compiled by the Chicago Tribune. The police districts where Takiya and Kanari were shot led the city in children shot, the data showed.
Trouble has been brewing for decades in the neighborhoods where the children were shot, as jobs have disappeared and economic conditions worsened.
Much of the bloodshed is tied to gang conflicts — often among rival factions battling block-by-block that often stoke emotions through social media taunts.
All three shootings in which innocent children became victims likely have links to gang conflicts, according to police sources.
Near 57th Street and Winchester Avenue, the scene of Kanari’s shooting, the “Winchester Boys,” a faction of the Gangster Disciples, has been feuding with several gangs, including the Vice Lords, Cobra Stones and Rubenite Stones, a distant offshoot of the Black P. Stones.
The stretch of King Drive where Takiya was shot is one of the city’s most active, constantly abuzz with activity. At 65th Street and King Drive, the scene of Takiya’s slaying, a faction of the Gangster Disciples has been battling with a faction of the Black Disciples.
The alley where the toddler was shot is in Lawndale, but in a quieter pocket of that notoriously dangerous neighborhood. Still, the 26-year-old who was shot was affiliated with Traveling Vice Lords, one of Chicago’s most historic and entrenched gangs, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.
All day Tuesday, both of the girls’ families faced the gripping pain of the shootings, with Kanari’s family clinging to hope late into the evening and Takiya’s trying to accept the loss of a bubbly child.
Takiya never regained consciousness after she was hit in the head by a stray bullet while sitting in a parked car with her mother, aunt and younger brother in the Parkway Gardens neighborhood Saturday evening, her relatives said. They had stopped at a cleaners in the 6500 block of South King Drive around 8 p.m. to give a ride to a friend who worked with the mother.
Naikeeia Williams, Takiya’s mother, told everyone to duck when shots rang out. Only Takiya didn’t respond when the mother asked if everyone was OK.
Two days of agony played out for the family as the 5th grader was on life support at Comer Children’s Hospital.
“I feel so helpless,” Williams posted on Facebook around midnight Saturday. “I can’t do anything to help my baby and this is killing me watching her lay here.”
By Monday morning, Takiya’s condition had not changed, and relatives were fearing the worst.
“Takiya,” her mother posted around 6:25 a.m. “Mommy needs you to get up and give her 1 of those big hugs you give me and tell me it’s ok like u always do…. Baby i need u to be as strong as I know u can be… PLLLLLEEEEEAAAASSSSEEEEE…..”
Takiya died at 8:17 a.m. Tuesday, according to her family.
Patsy Holmes described her granddaughter as an “active, jovial child” with “eyes and dimples that will set your heart on fire.”
She was a student at Theophilus Schmid School, where her name was typically on the honor roll. She got upset when it wasn’t, her grandmother said.
Like any 11-year-old, her interests changed by the day. She enjoyed dancing and singing and at one point expressed interest in being a teacher. She also tried her luck in sports, joining a basketball team.
“She lived life, and she loved it,” Patsy Holmes said.
Holmes said she tried to instill homemaking skills in her only grandchild, who called her “Big Momma.” Every other weekend, when Takiya visited, they set out to make a different confection: cakes or pies or chocolate-covered strawberries.
“Last weekend, she made brownies, and they were really good,” Holmes said Sunday.
Holmes last saw Takiya on Friday when she dropped her off after school.
“She said, ‘Bye, Big Momma, I love you.’ I told her, ‘See you Monday.'”
“Our community has to come together to protect our children,” Holmes said. “Our children are innocent (and) getting caught by stray bullets. The other little girl who got shot, my prayers are going out to that family.”
A chaotic vigil
Kanari was shot about half an hour before Takiya while playing basketball with friends at Henderson Elementary School in the West Englewood neighborhood, police said.
Kanari’s family told reporters outside Stroger Hospital that on at least three occasions, paramedics and hospital staff couldn’t detect the girl’s heartbeat. She remained on life support Tuesday, and so far had not responded to her relatives, her family said.
“She’s a child, and she was gunned down on the streets of Chicago … over nothing at all,” Kanari’s grandmother, Patricia Donald-Bowers, said Monday. “Right now she’s my priority. … All I can do is focus on her.”
At a community event Monday evening, Henderson Principal Marvis Jackson-Ivy said shootings near the school are common. She said students could not leave school one day last fall to avoid walking past a crime scene. She said the school hires two officers every year so the kids can have recess outside.
“We’ve lost 50 students since September due to violence in the neighborhood,” she said. “They move to Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana — they moved out of the state.”
On Tuesday night, a vigil for Takiya at 65th Street and King Drive quickly devolved into chaos as indicted Ald. Willie Cochran took the microphone to address the crowd before the grieving family was allowed to speak.
“Power to the people! This vigil is for the family!” People shouted.
As Cochran continued on, members of Takiya’s family, holding balloons, flowers and stuffed animals, held a separate gathering nearby in a grassy area near a parking lot.
“Even if they were going to get into politics, they should have addressed Takiya first,” one relative said. “You’re going to address politics first instead of this little girl’s life? She’s 11 years old. She didn’t ask to be in the middle of this crossfire.”
Chicago Tribune’s Annie Sweeney, Jason Meisner, Gregory Pratt, Hal Dardick and Elyssa Cherney contributed.
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