It’s been five years since five women were shot to death inside a Tinley Park Lane Bryant clothing store, and during an annual gathering Saturday at the scene of the crime it was clear that time has not healed the emotional wounds wrought by the unsolved slayings.
“It's really rough,” said Hilton Hamilton, whose daughter, Rhoda McFarland, 42, was managing the store on Feb. 2, 2008 when it was besieged by a lone gunman. “I just want the man brought to justice.”
McFarland, of Joliet, called police in a panic that day, whispering into the phone, before the gruff voice of a man was heard in the background and the phone went dead, Tinley Park police have said.
Moments later, an officer responding to the call found her dead.
Near McFarland were Jennifer L. Bishop, 34, of South Bend, Ind.; Sarah Szafranski, 22, of Oak Forest; Connie Woolfolk, 37, of Flossmoor; and Carrie Hudek Chiuso, 33, of Frankfort.
A sixth woman was badly wounded. All were shot with a .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun.
As they have every year since, the victims' families gathered Saturday morning at the now empty storefront near 191st Street and Harlem Avenue. Some peered through the empty windows into the darkness.
They shared hugs, shed tears and huddled in prayer.
“As we go forward, let it be known that we are there for them, Father God, and that we will not give up until this fight is won—until whoever did this thing to them is brought to justice,” McFarland's mother, Barb Hamilton, recited as the group held hands.
After the prayer, as the group began to part, Pam Van HuffelÖ laced a small bouquet of flowers between the handles of the store's front doors. Her daughter, Jennifer Bishop, was among those killed.
“Every year at this time things just get really depressing,” said Bishop's sister, Michele Talos. “You have anxiety build up about what she went through on the morning of Feb. 2. It doesn't get any easier. This year, actually, is probably harder because everybody is talking about it more.”
After visiting the store last year, Talos met with Tinley Park detectives, who she said have done a great job of keeping her family informed.
Police continue to search for a suspect described as an African-American man about 6 feet tall in his mid-20s to mid-30s with his hair pulled into cornrows, including one braid strung with light green beads dangling next to his right ear. The description came from the surviving victim.
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Five small white crosses with the victims’ names and photographs line a small patch of grass at the edge of the store's parking lot. Scrawled in black marker are messages that include “Why did this happen?” and “We will always remember you.”
McFarland's cross reads “God knows who you are.” Her father was flush with emotion as he turned to walk away.
“This is the first time I've been here since she was killed,” he said, “and it'll definitively be the last.”Copyright © 2015, RedEye