Chicago Funeral Homes Are On Edge After Recent Mass Shooting

A casket in the back of a hearse
While shootings outside Chicago funeral homes are rare, a recent shooting gained national attention and put nearby funeral workers on alert. RichLegg/Getty Images
A casket in the back of a hearse
While shootings outside Chicago funeral homes are rare, a recent shooting gained national attention and put nearby funeral workers on alert. RichLegg/Getty Images

Chicago Funeral Homes Are On Edge After Recent Mass Shooting

When a black Chevrolet Malibu pulled up in front of Rhodes Funeral Services Tuesday night, two people inside the car started a gun battle. Sixty rounds were fired and 15 people were wounded, police said.

And while shootings outside Chicago funeral homes are rare, this shooting gained national attention and put nearby funeral workers on alert.

“I’m very concerned, because we work in this industry and live in a time when some people have no regard for human life,” said Barbara, who works at a nearby funeral home. She did not want to give her last name for fear of being targeted by gangs.

Another funeral home worker, who also didn’t want his name used, echoed similar sentiments: “The disrespect has reached a different level. It’s very scary for us, because what’s going to happen at the next funeral? A lot of times people don’t realize that they’ve set a precedent like, ‘If I got away with this, then someone else is going to think they can get away with it.’ And it puts their minds to doing dishonorable things.”

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown said the department regularly monitors funerals for people killed in “gang conflicts” because of the potential for gun violence. On Tuesday, there were two police cars and a full tactical team monitoring the funeral in the 1000 block of West 79th Street, because the deceased had been killed about a week earlier in a drive-by shooting that was part of an ongoing “gang rivalry,” Brown said.

In recent years, there have been occasional shootings during or after funerals and memorials. In 2018, six people were shot as they left a funeral for a local rapper. And last year, 13 people were shot during a memorial service in the Englewood neighborhood.

Longtime W.W. Jackson Funeral Home owner William Jackson said he was saddened by more news of shootings this summer. In Chicago, 425 homicides have been reported so far this year, an increase of 49% compared to the same period in 2019, according to data from the Cook County medical examiner’s office. Last weekend, more than 63 people were shot, 12 fatally.

“I felt that it was another brick in the mosaic of the wall that we have been experiencing every weekend for the last three or four weeks,” he said. “But it just came real close in as much as it was a funeral service, something that I go to almost every day.”

Still, Jackson and other funeral directors stressed that they have systems in place to try to avoid these kinds of violent incidents.

“First, you want to take a look at the circumstances of the person who passed,” said Eric Whitehead of the Angelus Funeral Home. “Let’s say the decedent was gunned down or it was gang related, then you would want to bring it up in conversation and you would ask how the family feels and if they feel threatened. If it was gang related or something of that nature, nine times out of 10 the police would alert us and we would communicate back and forth to have a conscious plan on how to handle the situation.”

That conscious plan will often include having a police presence, Jackson said.

“A lot of time, if something has the potential for violence, we will call the police and tell them we have something that sort of feels like it’s gangy, or they call us and ask us if we have such and such a decedent and they want to know the details of the service,” Jackson said. “At my place, they might put one man across the street, but then if [the deceased] is known for a little notoriety there might be a couple of officers who walk through the establishment to let their presence known.”

Still, funeral worker Barbara is afraid that police are no longer the deterrent they once were.

“There could be police presence, but it still doesn’t matter for people who intend to harm people,” she said, noting that the shooting outside Rhodes Funeral Services was being guarded by police. “There is just no regard for life from some of our people. They don’t care if you have police anymore.”

Her colleague Eyesha chimed in with a sentiment Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been expressing.

“It’s going to take all the people in the community speaking up and giving up these people,” she said. “Somebody knows something, but since everybody is so scared, we are going to keep experiencing things like this.”

Jackson said the scale and brazen nature of the Rhodes shooting suggests a shift in gang culture.

“There is no leadership in the gangs anymore, and therefore there are no rules,” he said. “These young fellas are rudderless as they move about doing what they’re doing. At one time there was a hierarchy present, and now there isn’t.”

Sources told the Chicago Sun-Times that the shooting was most likely fueled by a longstanding war between two obscure factions of the same gang.

President Donald Trump recently cited the funeral shooting when announcing that he planned to deploy federal troops to fight crime in the city.

But Jackson thinks more basic issues need to be addressed first. “They need to get rid of the guns is what they need to do,” he said.

Still, Jackson says he tries to cope by not thinking too much about it.

“It doesn’t matter about the bullet that is meant for me; it matters about the bullet that finds me,” he said. “So I don’t dwell on it because if I did, I would probably never come here [to work].”

WBEZ reporters Patrick Smith and Chip Mitchell contributed to this story.