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Tragedy evokes compassion from Bears players and community

BrandMarshall says he will help Chris Pettry’s family. | Phelan M. Ebenhack~AP

Brandon Marshall says he will help Chris Pettry’s family. | Phelan M. Ebenhack~AP

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The facts: John Barleycorn in Wrigleyville, 3524 N. Clark Street, 5-9 p.m. Saturday.

Who’s coming: Numerous ­former and current Bears ­players are expected to attend, including Tommie Harris, Jason McKie and Kellen Davis.

For more information: Contact Wayne Jett of Sideline Marketing at (815) 529-3447.


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Updated: November 13, 2012 6:37AM

Karen Pettry couldn’t climb out of bed every morning if not for her three children.

Pettry has been nearly catatonic since learning in the wee hours Sunday that her husband, Chris, was murdered at an Irish-themed bar in Jacksonville, Fla., hours before his beloved Bears played the Jaguars.

“It’s shocking,” Pettry told the Sun-Times. ‘‘I feel like I’m going to wake up from this dream and it’s going to get back to normal.

“But I can’t believe this is happening. My kids don’t have a daddy, and I don’t have a husband anymore. All because of him.”

‘‘Him’’ is Matthew Hinson, who confessed to the crime. He slashed Chris’ throat at Fionn MacCool’s at Jacksonville Landing, a short distance from the Hyatt Regency, where the Bears were staying.

While Karen doesn’t understand Hinson’s motive, her focus is on the welfare of her children, including how she’s going to pay the $1,500 mortgage on their Lake Villa home.

Chris, a general contractor, insisted his children “grow up with a mom instead of a babysitter,” Karen recalled. Chris provided, working seven days a week, sometimes 20 hours a day, but they lived paycheck-to-paycheck.

Karen has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, from strangers donating $500 to Bears players — led by tight end Kellen Davis — setting up a fund-raiser Saturday night at John Barleycorn in Wrigleyville to raise money for the Pettry family. In addition, Brandon Marshall and his wife, Michi, pledged their support to Karen.

“She was concerned about not having a job,” Marshall said. “I told her to take her time and get through this. Use the people around her. Use us to breathe and take the time she needs and be there for her children. Don’t worry about any of that because we got her.”

Their story

Karen and Chris met in 1993. Karen initially approached Chris, who was a bartender at Hidden Cove, a bar in Lincoln Square. She was drawn to his warm personality and his willingness to help his friends whenever they needed him.

They married and lived in Old Irving Park, but Chris wanted to move to the suburbs after the birth of their second child.

“We wanted a house with a white picket fence,” she said.

Karen had an office job at a bathroom and kitchen remodeling store, but Chris wanted her to stay home with their children.

Chris could fix anything.

“Roofing, flooring, you name anything that needed to be done in a house, and he could do it,” said Nick Viverito, one of Chris’ closest friends, who accompanied him to Jacksonville.

But Chris’ business was hit hard with the economic downturn, forcing him to work constantly to pay the family’s bills. Viverito had Bears season tickets and offered to take Chris often, but Chris always declined because of work.

Earlier this year, the Pettrys went on their first family vacation to Disney World.

“It’s like after you go there, you need a vacation,” Karen said.

Viverito insisted Chris join him on a road trip to Jacksonville.

“He was so excited for the weekend to see the Bears,” Karen said.

On Saturday, Karen and Chris were in constant communication because their 13-year-old son, Brandon, was playing in a football game. Chris wanted play-by-play.

“My son hurt his elbow, and [Chris] called immediately” Karen said. “After he talked to his son, he talked to me, and he said, ‘I love you so much.’ I thought, ‘Gee, he hasn’t said that in a while.’ ”

The call

When she didn’t hear from Chris in the evening, Karen figured her husband was having fun. He was easygoing and friendly, and Viverito brought that out in him.

But Viverito tried to call her twice, and she missed calls from a 904 number, the Jacksonville area code.

“I thought his phone went dead and he was calling from a pay phone,” she said.

She listened to Nick’s message, which said that Chris was in the hospital.

Karen: “Is Chris OK?”

Nick: “Not good.”

Karen: “Is my husband OK?”

Someone else took the phone and said they’d call back in two minutes.

Karen panicked.

“I wanted someone to tell me if my husband is OK,” she said. “I was getting mad.”

A doctor called her back and told her that Chris had been stabbed in the neck. They tried to save him at the restaurant, and they tried to resuscitate him for an hour at the hospital.

She hung up the phone.

Then she called Nick back.

Karen: “Is this for real?”

Nick: “It is.”

She hung up the phone again.

The support

Alexandra, 15, is quiet. Brandon, 13, “has his moments.”

Jessica, who turns 6 in December, doesn’t grasp their reality.

“How come daddy isn’t coming home?” Karen recalled Jessica saying. “She still doesn’t understand.”

But Karen is encouraged by strangers who have offered her money and prayers. She’s overwhelmed that Bears players would reach out directly to her and insist on helping.

“It’s been very stressful for us,” she said, “but I can’t thank everyone enough for helping my family. I can’t believe it.”

Davis learned more about the Pettrys from Wayne Jett, who runs Sideline Marketing. They were determined to help, and Davis rallied current and former teammates for support.

“I just thought it was such a senseless and just a terrible thing,” Davis said. “It was pretty much a no-brainer just helping out a fellow human being who is in distress.”

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