Witness: A Killing in West Pullman

July 19, 2010


(Photo by Achy Obejas)

West Pullman, right dab in the middle of Chicago’s southern border, looks a bit like a picture book. The houses are modest, mustard brick, and sit in steady little rows on block after block. The lawns are clipped; the cars American, relatively new and pretty clean. On the narrow side streets off 115th Street, there are speed bumps to slow down errant drivers.

Asiha Jones, 32, says she moved here from public housing precisely because it’s a quiet area, with most houses owner-occupied, clean and friendly.

So she was taken aback when, last Thursday, she was folding clothes in her bedroom and she heard a shot that sounded like it was in her kitchen.

“I thought it was just kids playing but I still looked outside, out my bedroom window,” she says, “and then I saw (Jeremiah Sterling) take a shot and fall, and I knew. It was like a video game, with Jeremiah trying to get away.”

Jones witnessed when the shooter cornered Sterling, already on the ground from a shot to the arm, bent over him and fired.

“Every bullet he shot hit that baby.”

Jones, who lives directly across the alley from where Sterling was gunned down and killed, was the first on the scene as the boy lay gasping for breath.

“I told my daughter to call the police,” she says, “but I knew, I knew when I saw him, it was bad. When I got out here, he was lying on his side and smoke was still coming out of his head. I just stood there, swatting flies, telling him, ‘You’re not hurt that bad, don’t worry’. I kept telling him to ‘breathe, breathe’, but he couldn’t breathe; he was already gone.”

Over the weekend, police arrested Romairal Allen, a seventeen year-old like Sterling, who may have actually been after someone else.

“There was a shorty with Jeremiah,” says Jones, “but he got away. Jeremiah wasn’t that boy’s object. There’s a turf war right now between Ragtown and Cooper Park, and that’s what this is all about.”

The spot where Sterling was killed is still easily identifiable in the alley between South May and Aberdeen streets in West Pullman. Rich dark blood stains the concrete; the grass just west of it, in the yard where Sterling’s head may have fallen, is black, soaked through. An old bumper sticker at eye-level on the garage wall reads: “Don’t Shoot! I want to grow up.”

In the days since the shooting, a memorial has sprouted here: teddy bears and notes, drawings and cards. There are also about a dozen empty liquor bottles, which baffles Jones.

“I don’t get that,” she says. “He didn’t drink, that boy did not drink. I knew Jeremiah; he was one of my daughter’s friends. He was a good kid – and I know they always say that when somebody gets shot, but Jeremiah really was. He was raised right, raised by both his mom and dad. I’m telling you, this just hurts like hell.”

Her daughter, she worries, may need counseling after this. But she’s still shaky herself.

“Last night, I dreamed all night long,” says Jones. “In my dream, I’m sleeping but, when I wake up, it’s not Jeremiah: it’s my baby.”

After Sterling’s death Thursday, at least 40 more people were shot in Chicago between 5 p.m. Friday and 10 p.m. Sunday, according to police officials.