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‘Somebody wanted that boy dead’

Antonio Davis 14 was shot death June 22 2012 while walking store with cousEnglewood. He was attending summer sessiLeo High

Antonio Davis, 14, was shot to death June 22, 2012, while walking to the store with a cousin in Englewood. He was attending a summer session at Leo High School, where he planned to study this fall.

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Updated: July 28, 2012 6:22AM

One of the first things a streetwise visitor to Leo High School notices is the absence of metal detectors and police officers inside the building. They’re a functional part of the decor at most of Chicago’s urban schools.

“Don’t need them,” we declare. We’re a small school (150 boys), so our kids know each other and look out for each other. Weapons to settle disputes? Doesn’t happen here.

We’re proud of the safe, nurturing learning environment we maintain at 79th and Sangamon. We constantly admonish our kids to be careful, but we know we can’t protect them once they leave our building for the neighborhoods where they live. Some of them are as dangerous as war zones.

That point was driven home with sickening clarity Friday night when Antonio Davis was gunned down as he walked to a grocery store on West 69th Street.

Antonio was to begin his freshman year at Leo in August and had enrolled in our summer bridge program for reading and math classes to help ease his transition to high school. He was 14 and looked 12, a slightly built 125-pounder with lively eyes, soft features and a bright, easy smile that invited a smile in return. A cheerful, friendly, non-threatening kid. It’s scary to think what was in the mind of a killer who would brazenly snuff out a life so innocent and promising.

With that trademark smile, Antonio acknowledged that the lack of girls at our all-boys school was his one reservation about Leo, but his mom, Shantel Strong, helped convince him that Leo was the best place for him. Ms. Strong doesn’t have a car, so she moved from Calumet City to the Chatham neighborhood to give her only son an easier commute.

On Friday evening, Antonio was visiting an aunt’s home at 70th and Union when he and his 22-year-old cousin Erika decided to walk to the store for a cold drink on a hot night. They didn’t think anything of the light-colored van that slowed as it passed them on Union, despite the hard-eyed stares of its two occupants.

But Erika recognized the 20-something man in the dark, hooded sweatshirt as the van’s passenger when they encountered him on 69th Street. He didn’t say anything as they walked past, so the shot that felled Antonio came without warning. As Erika fled, the assailant calmly approached Antonio’s prone body, stood over it and fired several more times.

“Somebody wanted that boy dead,” said a police officer familiar with the case.

Why? Antonio was 14 and he looked 12. It’s inconceivable that he could be involved in anything wicked enough to provoke such mindless violence, or even be mistaken for a street thug. He was a child.

A social worker was at school on Monday to help our kids cope with their feelings. We’re trying to assist Antonio’s grief-stricken mom with funeral arrangements. I know it won’t do any good, but I want to scream.

I feel sad, angry, frustrated, and mostly helpless. I have no idea why kids like Antonio are dying on Chicago’s streets, and I don’t know where to turn for an answer.

Leo graduate Dan McGrath, who writes a sports column for the Chicago Sun-Times, is now the school’s president.

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