When fitted with a brace and special shoes, Martrell Stevens can use a walker. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times
Updated: May 5, 2011 1:42PM
Originally published Sept. 19, 2010:
Martrell Stevens has made great strides since an errant bullet left him partially paralyzed two years ago at the age of 4.
He can swim, take steps with the aid of a walker and play wheelchair basketball.
But the wheels of justice have ground to a halt. The shooter remains free. Witnesses know who committed the crime, but one of them won’t cooperate with detectives, said Martrell’s mother, LaKeesha Rucker.
“I don’t understand this no-snitching thing,” she said. “That guy is still out there saying ‘I put people in wheelchairs. That’s what I do.’ “
On May 23, 2008, Martrell was sleeping in the front seat of his mother’s sport-utility vehicle when a bullet ripped through his right side, missing his heart by an inch. The bullet struck his spine and punctured a lung. He has endured multiple surgeries to remove bullet fragments.
Rucker said she believes the shooting stemmed from an argument across the street from her mother’s home in the 6400 block of South Bishop in the Englewood neighborhood. The shooter returned to the block after arguing with a teenage girl and her father that day, Rucker said. The suspect started yelling at Rucker’s brother-in-law, who was standing outside but wasn’t involved in the original quarrel.
The 26-year-old suspect shot and wounded her brother-in-law in what Rucker believes was a case of mistaken identity. Then he aimed at Rucker and fired.
At the time, Martrell was buckled into the front seat while Rucker was putting his older brother and younger sister into the car. Rucker sped away to safety and wasn’t aware Martrell was shot until she saw blood bubbling from his mouth.
“He’s lucky to be alive,” she said.
The suspect, a convicted armed robber with more than 20 arrests, has been spotted in the same area recently.
One witness has identified the man as the shooter and police believe they have enough evidence for charges, police spokesman Roderick Drew said. But the Cook County state’s attorney’s office wanted more evidence, Drew said. Another witness refused to cooperate with police, stalling the case, he said.
The statute of limitations for non-fatal shootings is three years. So police have until May to bring charges.
“We will look at this case again,” Drew said.
Since the shooting, Mar-trell has grown stronger. While his upper body is fully functional, he has limited control of his lower body. He plays wheelchair basketball and swims in a program through the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. He has a special bicycle. And when equipped with leg braces and special shoes, he can use a walker.
But he can’t wash himself and still suffers other medical complications from the shooting. And it’s difficult getting him into the bathroom and down the stairs because their home is not equipped with ramps and wide doors.
The emotional damage continues, too.
“He asks questions like, ‘Why did he do this to me?’ and ‘Why am I the one he put in a wheelchair?’ “ Rucker said.
This fall, Martrell returned to second grade at Dumas Technology Academy at 67th and Ellis near his South Shore home.
Dumas became compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act this year, allowing him to return. New concrete ramps were built, an elevator was installed, bathroom doors were widened and lunchroom tables can now accommodate a wheelchair.
“It wasn’t done just for Martrell, but this was a concern for us,” Dumas Principal Macquline King said. “We’re glad to have Martrell back.”
King said she remembers when Martrell was shot. She saw a report on TV that a child was wounded, but because it happened miles away in Englewood she didn’t think it was one of her students. She was officially notified the next day and visited Martrell in the hospital.
“The children drew pictures about violence. It was very sad. It was a real-life lesson about guns,” King said.
One morning last week, Martrell got up at 5:30 as usual. His mother, who works as a janitor, dressed him in his school uniform. He ate cornflakes and watched “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
After 7 a.m., his mother helped Martrell down the front stairs and he waited for her to load the SUV with his wheelchair and walker. His siblings, LaWilliam, 9, and Kamisha, 3, got into the vehicle with him.
Dumas employee Darnell Frazier met them outside school. He rolled Martrell to the lunchroom where he sat by himself sipping milk until the rest of his classmates filed in. Martrell gave a thumbs down to the ham-and egg breakfast, which he didn’t touch.
Many of the students still don’t know why he uses a wheelchair. “I don’t tell them because it’s a secret,” he whispered.
Before the first bell, Frazier wheeled Martrell to the playground, where he watched older boys play softball.
When Martrell went to class, he sat in the front row.
Several times his hand shot up when teacher Juanita Martin asked a question.
“He is fitting in,” Frazier said. “Nobody is treating him any different. He is pretty independent and wants to do things on his own.”
Still, his mother said no child should experience what Martrell has endured.
“Kids are getting hurt and no one wants to come forward,” she said. “If you can’t protect your kids, who can you protect?”