By Rosemary Regina Sobol, Ellen Jean Hirst, Adam Sege and Carlos Sadovi
2:45 PM CDT, September 23, 2013
Life was back to normal Monday in Back of the Yards, three days after 13 people were shot and wounded in a park in the center of the South Side neighborhood.
Residents were getting their children to school and getting them back home and, for the most part, keeping them in the house to keep them safe.
"My kids mean everything to me," said Keeyana Keith, 24, as she and her brother walked her 5- and-6-year-old children to Richard J. Daley Elementary Academy Monday morning. "I'm scared for them.
"I hear gunshots, I know how to run," she said, tears streaming down her face. "How do these kids know how to run from gunshots?"
News that police had made arrests in Thursday night's shooting was little comfort.
"Ain't nothing changed since Thursday, to tell the truth," said Keith's older brother, Dennis Earl. "We don't have a library in the Back of the Yards. Doesn't that tell you that the people don't care?"
On Thursday night, neighbors had gathered in Cornell Square Park for a pickup basketball game. At least one gunman armed with a "military-grade" rifle walked up and opened fire, hitting 13 people including a 3-year-old boy. Police said it was a miracle no one died.
The youngest victim was 3-year-old Deonta Howard, who was walking, talking and eating Monday morning, according to his grandmother Semehca Nunn, 39.
Nunn's fiance, Curtis Harris, 37, was shot in the thigh and released from the hospital the next morning. But Deonta was shot in the face and will need plastic surgery, his family said.
Nunn said the boy's injuries weren't as bad as she was expecting. "I went and saw him yesterday," she said. "His face looks better than what I thought it was going to look."
Doctors are waiting for the toddler's jawbone to heal before doing surgery, she said. The bullet exited through the boy's cheek.
Even though her grandson is heavily sedated, Nunn said one of the first things Deonta asked for were his new shoes. "Yeah, he wanted his new shoes, I put them on and he was walking around," Nunn said. "Some type of Nikes."
Like Nunn, residents across the neighborhood worried and talked about their children Monday.
'I don't have my kids out in the street'
Esmeralda Carlos, 30, whose daughter is a seventh-grader at the Daley school, said she avoids lingering near the park and makes sure her children do the same.
She kept her older son busy as he was growing up, making sure he wasn't hanging out in the street. "We go straight home," she said. "I don't have my kids out in the street.
"If they hang out with the wrong person – there's a lot of gangbangers."
One of her daughter's classmates was at the park Thursday night with his parents, but Carlos doesn't believe any of them were hurt. The next day, she noticed more police patrolling the area by the school on foot and in cars. "I don't know if that's going to be a temporary thing or a permanent thing," she said. "It'd be nice if it were a permanent thing."
No police officers were in sight Monday morning as students and parents arrived at the Daley school. Later, a single squad car idled by the 50th Street entrance to the school.
'What's to keep the bullets from coming through my window?'
On the 5200 block of South Marshfield, Richard Mints was walking to get tools to work on his car as he looked up and down the block behind his home and pointed out the boarded-up homes. "We need to get rid of these abandoned houses, we got too many of them," said Mints, 55. "It's a haven for them (gang members) to hang in. We need to fix them up or tear them down."
The two suspects in the shooting were arrested in a vacant building behind Mints' home Sunday night. Mints said he looked over and spotted a large number of police cars with flashing lights descending on the building.
Mints said he wasn't surprised by the shootings in the park. The great-grandfather said gunfire and gangs have troubled the neighborhood for a long time. "When my grand-kids come, I have to keep them in the house. It's getting ridiculous," he said. "If they get to shooting, what's to keep the bullets from coming through my window and hitting my grandkids?"
'I don't even let my son go to the store'
Frederick Reed, 42, was walking on the sidewalk in front of where the suspects were caught. He was checking on his 62-year-old mother, who lives a block away.
Reed said he grew up in the neighborhood and went to Dunbar High School. But the neighborhood had gotten bad by the time he returned from the U.S. Navy in mid-1990s. "It was a family neighborhood, somewhere to raise kids," he said.
He said many of those children have been drawn to the gangs and put much of the blame on the lack of jobs and activities for teenagers and young adults. "I watched these kids grow up," Reed said. "Nobody has anything to do, just hang out everyday and the crowds bring trouble."
Reed knows violence up close. His sister Stephanie Reed was fatally shot nearby in 2009 by a former boyfriend who is serving a life sentence. And as a parent of a 16-year-old boy, a 15-year-old girl and a 3-year-old girl, he always worries about their safety.
"I don't let them go outside. I keep telling my mother it's time for us to go," he said. "I don't even let my son go to the store. I'm worried every day."
'There are always sirens and gunshots'
Jimmy Ramirez, 23, said growing up in the neighborhood was difficult because gangs were always trying to recruit him. He said his cousin, Juan "Angel" Cazares, was killed in the same park in 2009. Juan was 14 and was fatally shot along with another 14-year-old who survived.
Ramirez said the talk in the neighborhood is that the shooting was spurred by fighting between two gangs. Ramirez said he often spots gang members keeping tabs on him. "They're sneaky, they're watching who I bring over," he said.
Ramirez said he has two small children. When they want to go play in a park, he takes them to one on 35th Street, about two miles away rather than to Cornell Square Park just three blocks away.
"It's an everyday thing, there are always sirens and gunshots," he said.
'I can't even bring my grandchildren outside'
On 51st Street, Salvador and Maria Lopez keep a padlock on the fence in front of their home at all times. The couple raised their family there and say they have had more problems as more buildings become abandoned.
They are especially vigilant when any of their seven grandchildren -- ages 6 to 14 -- are visiting and don't believe police are responsive enough.
Two years ago, they said, a man had his throat slit in a doorway of a building next door. The man stumbled several houses down, leaving a trail of blood on the sidewalk in front of their home. The man collapsed and died at the corner.
"I can't even bring my grandchildren outside," said Maria Lopez. "You have a lot of gunshots, it's normal."
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