A pregnant mother and witness to a homicide, who was relocated after her Humboldt Park apartment was burned down, will soon be homeless because Cook County lacks sufficient funding for services to protect witnesses and victims of crime.
The 43-year-old woman said her apartment was set on fire in retaliation after her son was shot to death and she identified the killer. The Office of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx had been paying for two hotel rooms where she’s been living with her six children since the fire. But the mother said she was told the funding has dried up and that she has to move out by Dec. 5. Late Friday evening, the mother said county officials told her she could stay for an additional four days, but they will only pay for one room instead of two.
“They are telling me that I’m gonna have to go to a shelter. I feel like that’s unsafe because I’m pregnant,” she said. “I thought they were going to help me until I can get into my own place and get stable.”
“Once they throw you into a shelter, that’s not protection,” she said.
Around 5 p.m. on Oct. 13, her 23-year-old son and 13-year old daughter sat on the porch outside her apartment when a red sedan drove by and someone inside fired shots, striking them both. The 13-year-old was shot in the chest and taken to Stroger Hospital. The 23-year-old died after being shot, according to Chicago Police.
“I saw this person drive up and shoot,” the mother said. “I was crying, but I stopped when I saw my daughter. I didn’t want to scare her. She was shot, and I called the ambulance. That’s when I found out my son was dying on the side of my house. I didn’t even know he was shot.”
WBEZ is not identifying the woman because she witnessed a crime and is cooperating with prosecutors. Records from Chicago’s police and fire departments, as well as court documents, corroborate her story.
The mother said she identified the shooter to the police. Ten days later, prosecutors charged a 21-year-old man with first degree murder and attempted murder, according to court records. Five days after that, her apartment was set on fire. The Chicago Fire Department said the “source was open flame ignition,” but the fire was not labeled arson.
“We can only determine that a human act was probably responsible, but we cannot speculate on the mindset,” said Lawrence Langford, spokesperson for the fire department.
The woman said she called the state’s attorney’s office asking for help. She said she was placed in a hotel with her children in late October. She said she was told, about a month later, that Foxx’s office didn’t have money to continue paying for her hotel room. She said she was told to move into a shelter with her children.
The mother said she can’t grieve her son’s death because she needs to find a way to protect the rest of her children.
“They’ve already killed my child and now my house is burned down. I have nowhere to go because I don’t have family here in Chicago,” she said. “I really felt like my life was over, like what am I to do? That’s when they told me they would be here to assist me.”
Tandra R. Simonton, chief communications officer for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, declined to provide any information regarding this case.
“For safety reasons, we cannot discuss information regarding relocation plans for victims and their families,” Simonton said in a written statement.
Simonton said about $255,000 was allocated last year for services to victims and witnesses. Those services included funding for transportation, baby sitting, food and relocation.
“Violent crime ravages so many of our communities here in Cook County we rely heavily on witnesses coming forward to testify in court and one of the barriers for that testimony is people feeling safe,” said Kim Foxx during a county budget hearing in July. “Many of these people live in the same communities as the perpetrators. It is imperative for us for them to feel safe.”
Foxx said her office has limited funds to relocate witnesses but it’s not enough.
The mother said that she was told she’d have to move the week of Thanksgiving but was granted a longer stay, until Dec. 5, after WBEZ initially inquired about her case. She said she was contacted again late Friday by the state’s attorney’s office and told that they’d cover her hotel stay for four more days.
María Inés Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @mizamudio.