A 6-month old girl became the latest innocent victim of Chicago gang violence when a gunman ambushed her father while he was changing her diaper along a South Side street and unloaded round after round into the two of them.
Jonylah Watkins died at a hospital Tuesday after surgeons did what they could to repair the damage from the five bullets that tore through her body during Monday's attack in Woodlawn. Her father, Jonathan Watkins, was in serious but stable condition Tuesday after receiving treatment for wounds to his buttocks and side and a graze to his face, police said.
Jonathan Watkins is a gang member with a long criminal history — including a three-year prison sentence on a weapons charge— and there is little doubt he was the target of the attack, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said at a news conference Tuesday hours after the infant died. Watkins was standing in his car door changing his daughter's diaper around lunchtime when the gunman approached and opened fire.
"He was obviously targeted," McCarthy said. "It was very clear that whoever was doing this was firing at the father and exclusively at the father who happened to be sitting in a minivan with the child."
Such news conferences have become all too common of late. The city recorded more than 500 homicides last year for the first time since 2008, and only weeks ago McCarthy was vowing to capture those responsible for killing 15-year-old honors student Hadiya Pendleton, who was gunned down on a South Side street in an apparent case of mistaken identity.
Two suspected gang members have been charged with killing Pendleton, and on Monday, McCarthy said his department's renewed push to fight gang violence is paying dividends. There were only 14 homicides recorded in February, which is half of last February's amount and the lowest monthly total since January 1957.
On Tuesday, a day after the superintendent reported that the number of homicides were down 26 percent this year compared to the same period last year, McCarthy acknowledged that the infant's shooting makes it "hard to see the progress" and is a sobering reminder that "we have a lot of work to do."
McCarthy said that police have surveillance video that shows the van they believe was the getaway vehicle. And he said Investigators were trying to verify the existence of an alleged Facebook post threatening Watkins.
Area residents surmised that the gunman may not have known that the infant was in the van.
"They know who they were going after, but because he was bent over her changing the diaper they didn't see that child was in the damn car," said Carl Whitehead, a resident of the block where the shooting occurred.
McCarthy said detectives had spoken to Jonathan Watkins, but that they hadn't determined if he plans to cooperate with their investigation or not.
"We don't have one individual that's really stepping up to help us," he said.
Police often have a hard time getting witnesses to talk about suspected gang-related cases. For example, in the Pendleton case, one of the suspects refused to cooperate with investigators after he was shot month's before the honors student's killing.
The superintendent said the neighborhood where the infant was killed is the site of numerous gang conflicts, and that police saturated the area in the area Monday night "in the vicinity of the two gangs we believe to be involved in this conflict."
Monday's attack added to the grim roster of young children who have been gunned down, including a 7-year-old girl who was caught in the crossfire of a gang shootout while selling snow cones last summer and a 6-year-old girl killed a year earlier while sitting between her mother's legs on the family's porch.
The attack wasn't even Jonylah's first brush with gun violence. Her mother, Judy Watkins, was shot in the knee while pregnant with her, according to the woman's mother, Mary Young.
"There's too much shooting over there," Young told reporters Monday. Speaking of her granddaughter, she added, "She's nothing but 6 months old. How could anybody — what kind of heart?"
On Tuesday, there were two piles of window glass where the bullet-riddled van was parked a day earlier. There was also a makeshift memorial to the girl typical after such tragedies that included a couple of stuffed animals, a giftwrapped box and a helium-filled balloon with the words "Love Ya" on it.
"I walked past this spot every day," said Whitehead. I got a one-year-old granddaughter right up stairs. This has got to stop."