Father of slain boy believes son targeted but denies connection to slaying
Tyshawn Lee, 9, was killed in a shooting at 4:15 p.m. Monday in the 8000 block of South Damen Avenue in the Gresham neighborhood. Police said the child was shot in the head and back.
Father denies connection to slaying of son, 9
Chicago police are looking into whether a 9-year-old boy was killed in retaliation for his father's alleged role in a gang rivalry that resulted in at least two recent slayings on the South Side and the wounding of a reputed gang member's mother, law enforcement sources have told the Tribune.
But while the father of Tyshawn Lee said he believes his son was targeted, he denied anyone had reason to kill the boy in order to retaliate against him.
In an interview Tuesday night with the Tribune, Pierre Stokes denied anyone would have a motive to kill him, but if they did, there was no reason to take it out on his son because he's out in public in the neighborhood all the time. If anyone wanted to harm him, they could find the opportunity, he said.
"I'm not hard to find," Stokes said.
Tyshawn was on his way to his grandmother's home from Scott Joplin Elementary School when he was shot multiple times Monday afternoon, police said. A basketball he always carried with him was found nearby.
The Tribune, quoting law enforcement sources, reported online Tuesday that police are looking into whether Tyshawn was killed in retaliation for recent gang shootings. Just days apart in October, two reputed members of rival gangs were shot on the South Side, one fatally. A female companion also was killed in one of the shootings and the mother of a reputed gang member was wounded.
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Police are investigating if Tyshawn may have been shot in retaliation for the slaying of Tracey Morgan, a 25-year-old parolee, because of his father's alleged gang ties.
Stokes did not talk specifically about whether he was a gang member but said he disagreed with what police have said about him. He also expressed frustration with Chicago police, saying investigators seem more interested in him than in finding who fatally shot Tyshawn.
"They're more worried about me. Why are you worried about me, not the killer?" Stokes, 25, said outside his residence in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood. "I'm not the killer. Worry about the killer."
But Stokes said he felt guilty that he was not at his son's side when he walked to his grandmother's house.
"To be honest, I feel bad," he said. "I feel like it's my fault."
Stokes said his son, who lived with his mother, didn't go trick-or-treating on Halloween because of the recent violence in the neighborhood. Instead, Stokes said, he bought his son candy from a Family Dollar store.
Karla Lee talks about her son Tyshawn Lee, 9, who was fatally shot in the Gresham neighborhood Nov. 2, 2015, in Chicago. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)
"I didn't want to risk it," he said.
On Monday night, Chief of Detectives Dean Andrews said he could not rule out that the boy had been targeted. Law enforcement sources said Tuesday that Tyshawn may be the latest victim of a violent gang feud.
Tracey Morgan, a 25-year-old parolee, was fatally shot Oct. 13 after leaving a "gang call-in" meeting, an anti-violence effort by Chicago police and other law enforcement. His mother, who was also in the vehicle, was wounded by the gunfire. Police were investigating if Morgan, a reputed member of the Terror Dome faction of the Black P Stones, was followed by a rival gang member who also attended the meeting in a Chatham church.
Five days later, a member of the rival Killa Ward faction of Gangster Disciples was wounded in a shooting near 78th and Honore streets in Auburn-Gresham that also left 19-year-old Brianna Jenkins dead, according to police.
Even with the level of violence Chicago is experiencing this year — homicides and shootings are both up 18 percent through Oct. 25 compared with a year earlier — it is rare for young children to be targeted by gangs. Police said a gang member fatally shot 9-year-old Antonio Smith Jr. in a Greater Grand Crossing backyard in August 2014 after thinking the boy had shouted a warning to gang rivals.
In other cases, children have been the innocent victims of violence intended for a relative targeted by gang rivals. Police said 7-year-old Amari Brown was fatally shot at a Fourth of July celebration this year in an apparent attack on his father, a reputed ranking gang member.
Aliyah Shell, 6, was fatally shot in March 2012 as she sat in her mother's lap on the front porch of their Little Village home when reputed Latin King gang members opened fire on the home because a rival Two-Six gang member lived there. In June 2009, Chastity Turner, 9, was washing her pit bull outside the Englewood home of her father, an admitted Gangster Disciple, when rivals from a faction opened fire and killed her.
At a vigil Tuesday afternoon for Tyshawn, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, the activist pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church, said "street codes" have changed from when gangbangers had an understanding that killing a rival's mother, grandmother or child was off-limits.
"What kind of an individual shoots bullets into a 9-year-old baby ... multiple shots?" Pfleger said while flanked by other clergy, anti-violence activists and community members. "That's not a drive-by. That's not a spray of bullets. That's not an accidental shooting. That is an execution."
At a later news conference outside Area South police headquarters, Tyshawn's sobbing mother, Karla Lee, clutched a photo of the beaming fourth-grader in her left hand and a football under her right arm as she begged for anyone with information about her son's killing to come forward.
"Please find whoever did this to my baby," she said. "I love my son. He was supposed to play ball. That's all he did, play ball and play his video games. He never hurt nobody. I don't know why this happened. If anyone knows anything, please, please."
"Please put the guns down," Lee said. "It's taking too many young lives. I'm only 26. This is my only baby."
By Tuesday afternoon, reward money had climbed to $20,000 for information leading to Tyshawn's killer, according to Dawn Valenti, a crisis responder who is assisting the family.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said anyone with information on the shocking slaying of a child so young had "a moral responsibility" to come forward.
"I believe fundamentally in the goodness of human nature, but there is evil in the world," Emanuel told reporters at a hotel groundbreaking near Midway Airport. "And whoever did this, there is a special place for them. I hope they never see freedom. I hope they never see daylight.
"This person is not an individual. They're not a human being. Because when you do what you've done to a 9-year-old, there's a place for you, and there is no humanity in that place."
An autopsy Tuesday determined that Tyshawn had indeed died of multiple gunshot wounds, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.
At the scene of the shooting Tuesday morning, three men gathered to clear a proper place for a makeshift memorial for the boy. They scraped away weeds and trash from a small slab of dirt next to a garage in the middle of the alley in the 8000 block of South Damen Avenue.
They laid down three stuffed animals, a small Bible, a bouquet of flowers wrapped in pink paper and a basketball still in its package.
"I woke up this morning and it was just something weighing heavy on my heart," said Antwan Burns-Jones from the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood. "I just had to do something."
"When I saw what happened, I couldn't even eat," said David Lee, also of Auburn-Gresham, who is not related to the boy's family. "It's just disgusting for them to kill a child in the street."
Burns-Jones, Lee and another friend, William Moore, stood at the site for more than an hour, trying to understand how a boy close to the age of their own children could have been so coldly gunned down steps away from his home.
"It could have been my son," said Moore, of the Kenwood neighborhood. "It's a child. That's really what should wake Chicago up. It makes it even more disheartening. I've been to Iraq, I've been to Afghanistan and stuff like this still affects me."
Blood spattered the pavement between the mouth of the alley on 80th Street and the midpoint of the alley near a garage. The smudges of dark red trailed from the middle to the left side, then right to where a scrap of red crime scene tape remained.
"I wish I had something to clean that up because he doesn't deserve to be out here like that," Burns-Jones said.
Nearby, Frank Graham walked alone up and down Damen Avenue, holding white signs with messages in black lettering, urging community members to rally and find Tyshawn's killer.
"Get off your couch and get involved," one sign read. Another said: "Don't criticize. Help us fix it."
"All I see out here right now are cops and reporters," said Graham, 25. "That's crazy. It makes me wonder do black lives really matter? Do we care enough about our own lives enough to stop what's going on in our communities?"
Graham, who said he has nieces and nephews about Tyshawn's age, said he took the day off from work to demonstrate, feeling it wasn't enough to simply share stories of Tyshawn through social media.
"There's only so many times you can see this on the news and just go about your day like nothing ever happened," he said.
At the vigil Tuesday afternoon, Annette Nance-Holt, whose son Blair Holt was fatally shot on the Far South Side in 2007, said all of Chicago needs to be angry about what happened to Tyshawn, not just people in the immediate neighborhood.
"We have to take back this community one by one," she said. "We're going to have to take each block back."
For others at the vigil, the slaying of such a young child brought back their own trauma.
"It's like PTSD," said Johneece Cobb, whose nephew, Edwin Cook, was shot to death in January in the West Englewood neighborhood. "I can't see it without reliving it. The minute I heard about (Tyshawn) I just started shaking and crying."
Edward Ash, who lives in the row of single-family homes along Damen just across from Tyshawn's street, said his grandson heard on the bus that a woman was shot to death. Ash had to tell him that, in fact, the victim was a little boy younger than he was.
"All I can do is continue warning him to be careful and don't fool around. Just keep walking," said Ash, 84, sitting on the stoop outside his home. "I hope he'll listen."
More than 100 people showed up late Tuesday for the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy or CAPS gathering after the Chicago Police Department held a press conference steps away from where Tyshawn was gunned down, urging the community to get involved.
"What we are doing today is called an 'Operation: Wake Up,'" said Glenn Brooks, area CAPS coordinator. "Now, we don't do these things every day. We do these things when someone has crossed that line in the community that should never be crossed."
Sheronda Nicholson, 41 was there with her son and said she hoped the community will learn to speak up.
"Start being a parent," she said. "Talk to your children."
Nicholson said that parents need to know what their kids are doing and teach them right from wrong.
"Too many parents are letting the streets raise their children and that is the main reason why there's so much lives lost," Nicholson said. "We can't blame the police at all. It has to start at home. If they're doing their job at home, it would make it a lot easier on the police. A lot of these kids don't have guidance, they don't have their fathers, and their mothers not doing nothing."
Chicago Tribune's Grace Wong, Carlos Sadovi and Alexandra Chachkevitch contributed.
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