‘Just Countless, Countless Shootings’: West Side Gun Violence Has Residents Reeling

Jones Family
The family of 13-year-old Amarià Jones, who was killed by a stray bullet Saturday night at her Austin home. Patrick Smith / WBEZ
Jones Family
The family of 13-year-old Amarià Jones, who was killed by a stray bullet Saturday night at her Austin home. Patrick Smith / WBEZ

‘Just Countless, Countless Shootings’: West Side Gun Violence Has Residents Reeling

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Amarià Jones was an outgoing 13-year-old. She loved doing her older sister’s hair. She wanted to be a lawyer when she grew up.

And she loved dancing.

Her mother, Lawanda Jones, said that’s what Amarià was doing when she was killed by a stray bullet Saturday night in the front room of her Austin home.

“Any song she hears, she would get up and dance and have fun. And that’s how she lost her life. Showing me a dance,” Jones said. “As she was showing me the dance, the bullet came flying through the window and hit her in the neck.”

Lawanda Jones said her teenage son and two of his friends were on the family’s front porch around 9 p.m. Saturday when they noticed a green dot on one of the boys they thought was a laser from a gun and rushed to get inside as the bullets started flying. She said her son’s two friends were wounded in the shooting. One bullet went through the front window and hit Amarià.

Amarià’s sister, Mercedes Jones, said her sister was like a “mini-me,” always wanting to tag along wherever the 27-year-old was going.

“Everything that I did, she wanted to be like me,” Mercedes Jones said. “To lose a sibling, someone so young with a promising future, is unbearable. It’s unbearable.”

Amarià was one of five people shot to death in the Austin neighborhood over the weekend, authorities said. The West Side community is one of the largest in Chicago, and it had the most murders of any neighborhood in the city in a weekend that saw more than 100 people shot throughout the city.

At a press conference Monday, First Deputy Superintendent Anthony Riccio said he had met with other Chicago Police Department brass to “strategize” and talk about the issues on the West Side of the city.

Violence prevention workers in West Side neighborhoods like Austin and Garfield Park said they had been working nonstop over the weekend and on Monday to get support to grieving families and try to prevent retaliations.

“Just countless, countless shootings,” Austin outreach worker Corey Foster said of the weekend. “I haven’t been to sleep in two days.”

Foster and other outreach workers were disheartened by the violence but insisted it could have been much worse if they had not been out trying to mediate disputes and prevent shootings.

On Monday evening, about 40 people gathered at Corcoran Place and Central Avenue to call for more support for their community, and to call on members of the community to speak up and turn in the weekend’s shooters.

Chicago police have said for years that one of the biggest contributing factors to the department’s abysmal record solving homicides is that witnesses won’t step forward.

“What I honestly want people to do is stop being afraid. … I, for one, will not live like this,” said rally organizer Aisha Oliver. “This is about humanity. This isn’t about Black or white. This is humanity. We have to start taking care of our own.”

The crowd at Monday’s rally was likely diminished by the day’s thunderstorms, but speakers repeatedly contrasted the turnout to the much larger anti-police brutality marches and protests that have been held through the city.

“If it was a police officer that killed that 3-year-old, it would’ve been 10,000 people on his corner right now,” said Anthony Clark. “When we say we can’t breathe, let’s be honest to understand, it’s people in our community taking our breath. When we say ‘our hands up, don’t shoot,’ understand it’s people in our community pulling the trigger.”

The rally was held just a few blocks from the site where 3-year-old Mekhi James was shot in the back of the head on Saturday, according to police.

The child’s mother, Esha James, addressed the crowd through tears, struggling to get the words out while holding a picture of her son. She pleaded for the violence to end.

“We’ve got to stop because now, my baby’s gone. That little girl’s life is gone. She was in the house … doing what she was supposed to do, like my son was supposed to be in his carseat,” James said.

Eisha James
Esha James holds a photo of her 3-year-old son, Mekhi James, at a Monday rally. Mekhi was shot in the back of the head Saturday, one of five minors killed over the weekend. Patrick Smith / WBEZ

Mekhi and Amarià were two of five minors killed by gunfire over Chicago’s violent weekend, according to police and data from the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

“An innocent baby is gone. My baby is gone. People sympathize with us. But until they walk in these shoes, they don’t know what it feels like to lose a child,” Lawanda Jones said.

She said she is confident police will catch whoever killed her daughter. She said she’s been happy with the police response so far, with officers and detectives checking in on the family daily.

“I wish I could live to see her achieve her goals, what she wanted to be in life. … But the coward took it away from her. He took my baby, but never will she be forgotten.”

Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid. Email him at psmith@wbez.org.