A mother struggles as son's murder remains unsolved
On a warm, sunny April afternoon, Veronica Lewis stands and stares at the spot where her 27-year-old son was murdered last year.
“I know Korey isn’t the only one (to be killed in Chicago),” she says. “But I just want answers to my questions.”
Fourth of July
Korey Parker was murdered July 4th last year. He had spent the day barbequeing with his family. Veronica Lewis remembers she was settling in to watch a movie at the end of the day when she heard someone scream her son’s nickname: “C.O. got shot!”
She ran out of the house and found her son bloody, and nearly lifeless on the ground, surrounded by his friends. He had been shot once in the head and six times in the chest.
A funeral procession filled up the entire block where Parker was shot just days after the murder. Lewis says it was “like a party” after the burial when friends and neighbors gathered to remember her son.
His friends say he was the “rooster” on the block who got everyone up and going in the morning. His sisters describe him as a joker who picked food off their plates and told them to cover up if he thought their clothes were too revealing. Parker’s friends and relatives seem to talk about him with genuine affection.
Police believe there were two eyewitnesses the night of Parker’s murder, and Lewis says detectives told her that multiple anonymous callers have described a possible killer. But now, more than a year later, police still have not named a suspect in her son’s murder. And Lewis’ communication, or perhaps lack of communication with the detectives investigating the case, have left her with little faith in the police.
Police say they think two women were standing next to Parker the night of the murder but fled when the killer approached him.
Lewis says Area 2 Detective Brian Forberg told her he tracked down the two women on the same night as the murder, and they described a possible killer. Forberg declined to discuss the case with WBEZ.
“I believe they got scared,” Lewis said of the two women. She says “there’s no way” the women couldn’t have seen the killer if they were really there.
Lewis isn’t alone in her frustration. About 70 percent of all murders in Chicago went unsolved in 2009, 2010 and 2011, according to murder analysis reports from the Chicago Police Department.
Chicago Police Lt. Brendan Deenihan said police “have an idea” who killed Parker, but they need cooperation from the two apparent eyewitnesses, who he said police are now trying to find.
Speaking more generally about murder cases, police spokesman Adam Collins said detectives may know who committed the crime, but state prosecutors need the right evidence to charge a suspect, like witnesses willing to testify or DNA evidence.
But other than explaining that they need witnesses, Lewis says police haven’t said a whole lot more to her since the murder.
Lewis’s sister Sharon Miles was also home the night Parker was murdered. The sisters live in the same apartment building.
“I ran out... and found my daughter laying over Korey’s body. I told her to move out of the way so I could check for a heartbeat. There was nothing,” Miles said.
Miles’ husband Julien knows some officers so the two of them served as the family’s primary contacts with police in the tumultuous days after the murder. Miles says police were pretty responsive to phone calls at first, but after a month, the responses all but stopped.
A call log kept by Miles shows she and her husband called and texted the detective 32 times between August 2012 and February of this year and the detective responded only four times--three phone calls and one text. According to police department spokesman Adam Collins the detective was within department guidelines. Guidelines require detectives to contact the families of murder victims one month after the murder, then six months and a year removed, Collins said.
Lewis doesn't call as often as the Miles’s do, but says she only got one call back from the detective after the few times she reached out to him.
Miles says she and her husband passed on clues from neighbors to police but have been frustrated by the lack of response.
“It just seemed like they weren't doing anything,” she said.
A new tactic
In February, Sharon and Julien Miles tried something new to get police attention: they went straight to the top.
The couple joined about 15 other families at a meeting for those dealing with unsolved murder cases, organized by Purpose Over Pain, a support group for the families of murder victims. Two special guests joined the families at St. Sabina Church on Chicago’s South Side: Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and former chief of detectives, Thomas Byrne.
“We wanted them to know that the police do care — they just might not have the resources,” says Annette Nance-Holt, co-founder of Purpose Over Pain and mother of 16-year-old Blair Holt, who was killed on a CTA bus in 2007. The group’s co-founder and Nance-Holt’s ex-husband, Ronald Holt, runs the Chicago Police Department’s Crime Victims Assistance program.
McCarthy and Byrne both promised to help solve each unsolved case represented by those in the room.
They also promised better communication. Lt. Brendan Deenihan was assigned to communicate with Lewis and the Miles and met with them three weeks after the St. Sabina gathering. He spent the meeting explaining that they had a “good case” because there were possible eyewitnesses— something their detective told the family months before.
The lieutenant promised the Miles a monthly update on the case, but they say they heard nothing until June when police said they’re trying to subpoena the two females believed to be at the scene. That response came after multiple emails and calling the lieutenant, Sharon Miles says.
Deenihan insists he stays in “constant contact” with the family, but Parker’s relatives say they question if police are doing enough to find the killer.
The family held a prayer vigil for Parker on July 14, where they announced a $5,000 reward for anyone who can provide significant information in the case. The money was put up through a fund run by the Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church.
“I just want some kind of closure,” Lewis said. “I want it to be over."
Reema Amin is a graduate journalism student at Columbia College Chicago. She reported and wrote this story as part of "Forgotten Dead," a student project looking into unsolved murders in Chicago last year.