Nearly 20 years ago, as Gregory Johnson's best friend Joe Hudgins lay on his deathbed, Johnson promised he would look out for the man's teenage son, Joshua.
He even assured his longtime friend that the son had a job for life at his barbecue restaurant.
So the teen began working at Alice's Bar-B-Que in Bronzeville and quickly impressed Johnson with his work ethic, his friendly personality and his skill at cooking ribs "quick and tender."
"He was bad on that pit, he'd cook that meat tender," said Johnson.
Joshua Hudgins was working the night shift Monday -- as he did 6 or 7 evenings a week -- when he stepped outside for a cigarette at about 9 p.m. A light-colored car approached and someone inside opened fire at a "little gangbanger" who happened to be walking by, according to friends who were with Hudgins.
They missed their target and instead hit Hudgins, 34, in the chest, according to a co-worker and police.
Hudgins, of the 4900 block of South Champlain Avenue, was a "no nonsense" man who was focused on providing for his children, Johnson said.
"I've known Josh since he was born, he was a family man and he was respected. That's why it is such a shame," he said.
A friend of Hudgins, Henry Ramsey, said he was standing next to Hudgins when he saw a silver car pass by and someone fire three times.
"I was standing there talking to him for a moment and the next minute he was laying there dying," Ramsey said. "He never opened his mouth, never said a word."
J.T. McShane, who was also at the restaurant when the shooting happened, said he is convinced Hudgins was not the target. In fact, he said it appeared Hudgins may have tried to block the gang member from being shot.
"Josh turned and walked into that bullet, almost like he was protecting that boy," said McShane. "It's senseless."
Johnson and other merchants on the block said they have seen the neighborhood getting better as gentrification takes hold, with buildings going up and real estate speculators revamping older apartments.
But it has also meant more friction between rival gang members as they fight over shrinking turf to deal drugs.
And contractors often don't hire from the neighorhood, leaving the young men without work, said Harriet Deloney, who has run Oldies but Goodies, a used furniture store on the same block for more than 20 years.
"It's getting better but the gang members and dope peddlers are still doing their thing, they need jobs," Deloney said. "They have all these new buildings and condos going up but there's nothing to help the kids."
Hudgins was a single, devoted dad with two children, a girl, 8, and a boy, 6, said his sister Paula Harris.
"I was shocked," she said this morning in a voice hoarse from crying. "I have eight brothers and sisters and we were born and raised in Chicago and we've never had anything like this happen.
"My brother was not a gangbanger. He wasn't a drug dealer," Harris said. "He was a worker. He was a father. That's all he wanted to do and I wish that people would start thinking and valuing lives."
Alice’s was a home away from home for the Hudgins family, she said. Johnson is a longtime family friend who had hired many of Hudgins' siblings over the years, she said. "I grew up knowing everyone there," she said.
Hudgins worked as night manager and served as the head cook six or seven days a week, from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Henry Jackson, the building manager where Hudgins lived with his children, called Hudgins a close friend who impressed him with his devotion to his family from the first day he met him years ago.
When his friend came home from work, he always had left over barbecue for Jackson and his dog. "Here's a man who is going to work every day for his children and he gets killed," Jackson said. "It's senseless."
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