Chicago under fire: Murders rising despite decline in overall crime
By MARK KONKOL AND FRANK MAIN Staff Reporters | firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com July 7, 2012 7:01AM
Updated: August 9, 2012 6:16AM
Memorial Day weekend in Chicago: Over a span of 72 hours, gunfire claims the lives of a dozen people.
Another 45 are shot and wounded.
During a single 90-minute stretch, 13 people are shot.
It is another in what’s become a steady stream of violent weekends in Chicago, casting the city into an unwanted national spotlight.
The figures are startling. Through the end of June, the number of murders in Chicago was up 37 percent over the same period last year, even as crime overall declined.
Police Supt. Garry McCarthy — hailed as a “Braveheart”-like folk hero after getting out on the streets and leading his troops during the NATO Summit protests in May — is on the hot seat. His key strategy — doing away with mobile strike forces, which formerly were sent out to crime hot spots, and putting more cops back on the beat — has been called a failure by some.
Now, McCarthy is preparing to roll out a new tactic.
Social scientists who have studied murder say they’ve gotten to a point where they can predict who is most likely to become a victim of homicide.
McCarthy wants to take that further. He’s laying plans to have his officers study criminals’ social networks to identify likely killers before they kill.
“It’s going to change the way we do police work,” McCarthy said.
He said other tactics he’s put in place already are paying dividends. On the West Side, for instance, in the Harrison District, the number of murders is actually down this year — by about 40 percent through the end of June.
And citywide, McCarthy said, the police have seen a “decrease in the increase” in shootings this year. Through March, shootings were up 40 percent citywide over the same period the year before, and murders were up 66 percent. Through the end of June, shootings were up by 9 percent compared to 2011, and murders by 37 percent.
“This isn’t declaring victory,” McCarthy said. “This is declaring that we’re starting to move in the right direction.”
A common thread
There’s no single cause for the spike in murders, experts say.
Over the course of the Memorial Day weekend, the people who died were killed for a wide range of reasons, a Chicago Sun-Times examination found. One was killed after his girlfriend insulted a reputed gang member. A couple were shot to death after telling their roommate to move out. One man was hit by an apparently random bullet while attending a barbecue. A Downstate woman who was a potential witness in a drug case was found shot to death on the West Side.
A common thread, though, was that some of the victims had criminal records or were related to people who do, the Sun-Times found.
That was the case with Marcus Morgan.
The 27-year-old Walgreens stock boy had a long rap sheet, with arrests for aggravated assault, domestic battery, drug dealing and possession of stolen property.
Morgan — who supported a 3-year-old son, DeMarcus — was gunned down that Friday night in the 5300 block of South Justine.
He’d come home, showered, then gone out with a friend, according to Sandra McGriggs, his mother, who says her son wasn’t “into that gang-banging stuff.”
When Morgan got out of a car to talk to someone on the street, masked gunmen “started shooting,” she said.
Morgan was shot in the head. His friend was hit in the arm.
Word on the street, McGriggs said, is that her son wasn’t the target.
Not long after, in June, someone else got shot nearby.
“All this shooting in the city, all this killing don’t make no sense,” McGriggs said.
‘Just a few handshakes away’
Andrew Papachristos teaches sociology at Yale University but returned to Chicago, his hometown, to do the research that McCarthy has embraced.
Papachristos looked at murders that occurred between 2005 and 2010 in West Garfield Park and North Lawndale, two low-income West Side neighborhoods. Over that period, Papachristos found that 191 people in those neighborhoods were killed.
Murder occasionally is random, but, more often, he found, the victims have links either to their killers or to others linked to the killers. Seventy percent of the killings he studied occurred within what Papachristos determined was a social network of only about 1,600 people — out of a population in those neighborhoods of about 80,000.
Each person in that network of 1,600 people had been arrested at some point with at least one other person in the same network.
For those inside the network, the risk of being murdered, Papachristos found, was about 30 out of 1,000. In contrast, the risk of getting killed for others in those neighborhoods was less than one in 1,000.
“It thus appears that murder in these communities occurs in a very small world where the victims are just a few handshakes away from each other,” he wrote in a paper last year titled “The Coming of a Networked Criminology.”
Couldn’t get away
Jeffrey Triplett, 17, a junior at Manley High School on the West Side, was just a few handshakes away from guys openly selling dope to customers who’d drive up in their minivans.
It was a short walk from his front porch to turf claimed by a gallery of gangs. The Four Corner Hustlers. The Conservative Vice Lords. The Gangster Disciples.
Triplett’s uncle is in jail for murder. Other men in his life have gang ties and felony records, too — guys like his mother’s fiance, Derrick Miles, a six-time felon with drug, gun and attempted murder convictions. According to the police, Miles belongs to the New Breeds, a street gang. He has tattoos that say “Thug” and “Outlaw.”
On the same night that Morgan was killed, Triplett met his girlfriend and his best pal and scored a bottle of vodka at a liquor store. They headed to the basketball courts at Herzl Elementary near Douglas Park.
Triplett — everybody called him “Bookie” — lived a few miles north of there but liked to hang near Douglas Park on the same blocks where his mom and dad grew up.
About 11 that Friday night before Memorial Day, Triplett’s girlfriend got into an argument with a 19-year-old named Marley Collins. She teased Collins, calling him a “dirty bum” who couldn’t get a girlfriend. Triplett and his friends laughed, and Collins threatened to give them all a beating, the police were told.
They didn’t want to mess with Collins. They knew he hung with the Sick-O Boys, a street gang “clique,” or faction, specializing in burglary, robbery and shooting.
Collins lived with his God-fearing mother in Cicero, but he often hung out near Douglas Park, where his mother’s family has lived for years. Triplett and Collins had relatives who knew each other, family members said.
Last year, Triplett had witnessed one of the Sick-O Boys rob a friend at gunpoint of his Nike Air Force One sneakers and cell phone. He figured the exchange with Collins wasn’t worth a fight.
Triplett walked his girlfriend home and went to visit other friends. After midnight, they walked to Millard Park, another place where they hung out. But no one was there, so they started toward the Great Lakes Restaurant, a chicken-and-fish joint at 16th and Millard.
On the way, a man with a gun came out of a gangway and confronted them. Fire flashed from the barrel, and shots shattered the early-morning calm. Security cameras mounted on a three-flat captured the ambush.
Triplett and his friends ran. One got away. Another took a bullet in the back that knocked him down. When he tried to get back up, the shooter shot him seven more times. Six bullets remain lodged in his body, but he survived.
Triplett ran the fastest but not fast enough. He took a bullet to the head.
A crowd gathered, and someone called Triplett’s mother, Stacey Sanders, telling her, “We need you. Bookie . . . just got shot.”
When Sanders got there, her son was already in an ambulance on the way to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he died.
“I see this all the time, but I never expected it to happen to my child,” Sanders said. “He never bothered nobody. My son never been in trouble, never been in jail his whole life. He wasn’t in no gang or nothing like that. He’s a good kid.”
Triplett’s friends who survived the ambush told the police Collins was the triggerman.
Police sources say Collins, in addition to being a member of the Sick-O Boys, also was affiliated with the Vice Lords street gang.
Sanders and her family called detectives on the Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend to tell them Collins was still in the neighborhood.
“I was calling the detectives, saying, like, ‘He’s right here,’ ” Sanders said. “I told the detectives he was at my mother-in-law’s house.”
The police never arrested Collins, whose mother, Sabrina Collins, said: “My son, he was a real good kid. He knew about God. He carried a Bible in his right pocket. He never gang-banged. Never sold drugs. Me and him were very close.”
She said her son was sickly, had serious stomach problems and had several surgeries. She prayed for God to heal him, to keep her baby alive. Every day.
She said he couldn’t have killed Triplett because, when it happened, her son was in Cicero at her home.
“Marley was at home with me,” she said. “I’ll take a lie-detector test.”
On Monday — Memorial Day — Sabrina Collins went to a family barbecue at Douglas Park. Marley Collins went to hang with friends who live a few blocks away. He asked his mother to hold his Bible, his state ID and credit cards.
“I told him, “You keep that Bible’,” she said. “And I prayed for him. I said, ‘God release the angels from heaven and build a fence around him like you do for me.’ ”
As she packed up after the barbecue, Sabrina Collins called to tell her son she’d pick him up in about an hour. “Three minutes later,” she said, her voice cracking, “they called me and told me my son screamed out, ‘Somebody call my mother. Tell her I’ve been shot.’ ”
‘You got your revenge’
About 5:30 p.m. on Memorial Day, a man with a handgun shot Marley Collins once in the abdomen.
Witnesses told the police the shooter told Collins, “Got your bitch ass,” and ran off.
Sabrina Collins rushed over. She found her boy bleeding in a vacant lot in the 1500 block of South Spaulding.
“I watched my child die right in front of my face,” she said.
The police showed mugshots to a witness who picked out the man he said killed Marley Collins. The mugshot was of Derrick Miles, the fiance of Bookie Triplett’s mother.
The police believe Miles killed Collins to avenge Triplett’s murder earlier that weekend.
As Miles was driving Sanders to make funeral arrangements for her slain son, the police pulled them over. Miles was charged with Collins’ murder.
The detectives also interrogated Sanders.
“They had me in there, and they were saying, ‘You’re glad he’s dead. His mother is grieving. You got your revenge.’ That’s what got me to start crying,” Sanders said. “I’m looking at them like, for real? Is you serious?’ Ain’t nobody deserve to have their life took ... This is like some ‘48 Hours’ s--- on TV.”
Sanders and her family members said the police charged the wrong man in an effort to make a quick arrest. They said Miles — on parole after doing four years of a six-year sentence for pleading guilty to attempted murder — was an easy target. They said Miles had stayed out of trouble while on parole, had scored a steady job at The Cheesecake Factory on Michigan Avenue and planned to marry Sanders when his legal troubles were over.
“Derrick was changing. He had changed,” Sanders said. “I made him get a job and everything.”
Sanders buried her son in a white-and-red suit. The boy’s father, brother and nephew wore white and red, too.
“Red was Bookie’s favorite color, and red is love,” Sanders said.
A horse and carriage carried Triplett’s body. The funeral procession stopped at the spot where Triplett was shot. And family and friends following on foot clapped and chanted his nickname — “Boo-kie, Boo-kie, Boo-kie.”
Mario Temprana, 69, and his girlfriend Lorrie Heidbrick, 49, were at home in Woodlawn around 9:30 Friday night when they were killed. Each was shot with a .380-caliber handgun. Then, their killer blasted each of them in the chest with a shotgun.
According to Cook County prosecutors, the killer was their roommate, Michael Myrieckes, enraged after arguing with the couple about who would continue to live in the home, which was in foreclosure.
Myrieckes, 52, allegedly killed them in the home in the 6500 block of South Kenwood Avenue. He’s being held without bail.
According to prosecutors, Myrieckes had taken over the mortgage for the house after his sister died but couldn’t keep up with the payments, even with the rent that Temprana and Heidbrick were paying him.
Myrieckes agreed to put the house in the couple’s names, figuring it would take the bank longer to kick all of them out, prosecutors said.
But then Temprana and Heidbrick decided Myrieckes needed to move out. They threatened to call the police to remove Myrieckes. That’s when he shot them, prosecutors said.
They said Myrieckes called a friend and said he’d just killed two people.
Myrieckes was arrested about 30 minutes after barricading himself in the home.
Heidbrick grew up in Lake County and graduated from Stevenson High School. She used drugs and was arrested in her early 20s for arranging to sell cocaine to an undercover police officer, according to her brother, Herbert Heidbrick.
“Once she got out of prison, she was good for six months to a year,” he said.
His sister was convicted several times on drug and prostitution charges, court records show.
As a young woman, she became involved with a leader of the Latin Kings street gang in Chicago and had a son with him. The man was killed, and she lived “hour to hour” trying to survive in the city, her brother said.
She and Temprana, a Cuban immigrant, started living together about 17 years ago and had four children together, according to her mother, Meredith Heidbrick.
Temprana, who’d worked as a laborer, suffered two strokes and became bedridden, and Lorrie Heidbrick was his caregiver, Herbert Heidbrick said.
To make money, Lorrie Heidbrick collected aluminum that she would sell to recyclers, her brother said.
“They were junkers, they were scrappers,” he said.
Herbert Heidbrick said the violence over the Memorial Day weekend shocked him. Then, he learned about his own sister’s murder.
“My sister’s killing was so senseless,” he said.
Return home proved deadly
Jaylin Johnson was a senior at Julian High School when somebody — probably thugs he knew — shot up his mom’s house last year.
Five bullet holes still pock the front picture window, a reminder of what life can be like in Roseland — a far South Side neighborhood that locals call the “Wild Hundreds,” known for drug-dealing and gang-banging.
Johnson, whom everyone, even his mother, called J-Roc, was a “swagged-up” smooth talker who got a lot of attention from the ladies. He was a small guy who avoided confrontations. One time, Johnson told a boy who challenged him to a fight after school: “I ain’t fighting you. I’m calling my mom to pick me up early.”
After graduation, Johnson escaped Roseland, enrolling at Miles College outside Birmingham, Ala. — a school his mom picked — to study business administration. Johnson even persuaded his best friend, Walter White, to come with him. They both did well in the classroom.
At the end of the year, Johnson’s mother, Tasha Bush, reluctantly drove him back home, worried for his safety. She told him: Get a job, or go live with your uncle in Minnesota.
“I didn’t want him in Chicago,” Bush said. “You hear about stuff happening every day. Every time I come out the house at night, I hear shots fired somewhere.”
On May 26, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, a car crept south on Normal near 111th Street, and someone inside unleashed a flurry of shots toward a house that neighbors said often attracts trouble and police attention — five doors down from the home of Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), where a police surveillance camera hangs on a light pole across the street.
At the sound of gun blasts, people hit the deck. One boy got shot in the testicles. Johnson, 18, ducked headfirst into a bullet. It shattered his eye socket, sliced through blood vessels and left him on the sidewalk in a pool of his own blood.
Bush was a few blocks away, on her way home from a wedding, when her cellphone rang.
“Tasha, come quick,” she was told. “J-Roc has been shot.”
When Bush got there, the police and paramedics were tending to her son.
“I just sat on the ground with him. He was convulsing,” she said. “I knew he was alive.”
Doctors at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn said Johnson had brain activity, but if he ever woke up, he’d be blind in one eye. His face was swollen, and he’d lost a lot of blood. When Bush held his hand, her son gently squeezed her fingers.
“It was too much,” Bush said. “He was too little.”
Two days later, Johnson died.
Bush was crushed. Every day, sometimes in the middle of the night, she sits on the blood-stained concrete where Johnson was shot. She writes messages to her son on a posterboard memorial wrapped around a maple tree. Bush said she prays for justice for Johnson and peace for her neighborhood.
Murders were on a decline
There’s no question that murder is a serious problem in Chicago. It’s been an even bigger problem at times in the not-so-distant past.
There were more than 900 murders a year in Chicago in the early 1990s.
In 2003, Chicago was branded the nation’s murder capital. There were 601 murders in the city that year.
Feeling the pressure from Mayor Richard M. Daley, then-police Supt. Phil Cline put in place new strategies. Among them, he expanded his department’s use of special citywide units which he dispatched in a show of force to quell crime hot spots — the units that McCarthy recently disbanded in favor of putting more officers on patrol in districts around the city.
At the time, Cline’s strategy appeared to help. The number of murders plummeted, dropping to 453 in 2004. Except for 2008, the number has remained under 500 a year ever since, falling to 459 in 2009, 436 in 2010 and 433 last year.
‘Never saw it coming’
There were three more homicide victims on Memorial Day Monday.
Robert McNear, 35, was found fatally shot in the chest in the 5000 block of South St. Lawrence in Bronzeville at about 1:20 a.m. Monday.
Police told reporters the shooting appeared gang-related. McNear was a member of the Mickey Cobras street gang, police sources said, and court records show he had felony drug and gun convictions.
His grandmother, Kathleen Chatman, said McNear was trying to find a job, but his record made it hard.
She said he thinks he was just “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Not long after McNear was gunned down, someone walking a dog made a horrific discovery on the Southwest Side. Natalie Brady, a 25-year-old mother of three from Peoria, was found bleeding from her head at about 5:30 a.m. Monday in an alley in the 3000 block of South Kostner.
She was a defendant — and a potential witness — in a major heroin-trafficking case in Peoria, where authorities said they are investigating a possible link between her murder and the drug case.
She had been subpoenaed to testify in the heroin case. Janine Brady called the circumstances surrounding her daughter’s death “very suspect.”
Natalie Brady was raised in an upper-middle-class neighborhood but “made some bad choices,” her mother said, and “loved the party scene.
“This is an awful thing for any mother to go through,” she said.
The last homicide victim of the Memorial Day weekend was Malcolm Dowdy.
Dowdy, 33, who was a security guard for The John Buck Company downtown, had promised his best friend, Mike Anderson, he would go with him to a huge Memorial Day barbecue being held at 68th Street and East End, near Jackson Park.
His fiancée, Joi Cornelious, pleaded with him not to go. She was worried about the big crowd.
“Crowds like that, nothing good ever happens,” she said. “I knew it was a bad idea. It’s just not safe.”
Dowdy and Anderson grew up together and made music together. They had just made a pact with some of their friends to get serious about trying to make it as rap musicians. They even built a studio in the basement of Dowdy’s house in Auburn Gresham on the South Side.
They figured the barbecue would give them a chance to network with other musicians and urban radio DJs. Dowdy promised he wouldn’t stay too long.
“He told me, ‘This party wasn’t like that. It’s going to be safe,’ ” Cornelious said.
After sunset, Dowdy was ready to head home. On the way, he planned to pick up some Pampers for his daughter, McKenzi. At 17 months old, she had just started to say “hello” and “mom.”
The courtyard between the barbecue and his friend’s car was packed with people drinking.
Just after 10 p.m., Dowdy, flanked by Anderson, had snaked past a group of women who were arguing and across Ridgeland near 68th when gunshots rang out.
“I was standing right next to him when I heard the shots,” Anderson said. “Three shots. I didn’t run. I’m so used to hearing gunshots. I just turned around . . . I see someone on the ground. I ran over to his body and just kind of held him . . . I didn’t want to let him go, man. My best friend. I shook him a couple of times. There was a piece of skin, and it was hanging. . . . You could tell where ever it came from that it came through the back of his head.”
There was no need for an ambulance. Dowdy was gone. A woman who lived nearby gave the police a sheet to cover Dowdy’s body.
Anderson wept. Then, he went to bring the terrible news to the woman his best friend planned to marry.
“One of the hardest things I ever had to do was knock on the door and tell Joi that Malcolm wasn’t coming home,” Anderson said.
‘Hot spots,’ ‘hot people’
Under McCarthy, Chicago’s police are big on data. They hold weekly “CompStat” meetings at which commanders are held accountable for crime in their districts.
In an effort to prevent killings, McCarthy has also been employing “gang audits.” The idea is to get information about gang members, where they hang out and with whom they feud.
One way the police department gathers that information is by monitoring Facebook, YouTube and other social media. They’ve found that gang members sometimes brag online about killings, even posting photos of dead rivals.
“They post back and forth on Facebook, disrespecting each other,” using social media to bait each other, McCarthy said. “That’s driving gang violence — something that didn’t happen in the past.”
In one case, the police found that a picture of a man lying face down and bleeding from his head after a shooting near 67th and Cottage Grove last September had been posted and passed around on cellphones.
When the department turns up such photos, an alert is passed along to beat cops to prepare for retaliatory violence between rival gangs. They’re also informed of locations that are thought to be “hot spots,” McCarthy said.
Now, he wants to tap the same social networking analysis techniques that Papachristos, the Yale sociologist, developed to identify potential shooting victims, only McCarthy wants to use it to identify potential killers.
Police brass will cross-reference murder victims and killers with their known associates — the people projected as most likely to be involved in future shootings.
“Hot people,” McCarthy calls them.
Those deemed most likely to commit violence will be targeted first: parolees and people who have outstanding arrest warrants.
McCarthy said his staff estimates there are 26,000 “hot people” living in Chicago.
“That means there are about two of those bad guys for every one of our officers,” the superintendent said. “So take that concept of ‘hot people’ policing, and drop that on top of ‘hot spot’ policing, which we’re already doing.”
It’s something that hasn’t been tried before.
“We have to keep trying new things to stay ahead of the bad guys,” he said.
Epilogue: ‘Pray for Chicago’
On June 26, the day Malcolm Dowdy would have turned 34, his family and friends gathered on the sidewalk where he died. Holding candles, they sang hymns and prayed.
“Don’t be selfish, pray for Chicago,” Cornelious’ mother, Denise Dixon, said.
“There are so many Malcolms that nobody will ever know their names. We need to pray for ourselves. We need to pray for the leaders of our city. Give them a just mind so they can rule and lead the way they should so this can stop. This is genocide, people — make no mistake about it. We are imploding on ourselves.”
Contributing: Josh McGhee