Chicago’s first two murder victims of the year were starting to turn their lives around, people close to them said, and both were signed up for a construction training program that was set to start Monday. Both were gunned down just four days before the first class.
Marcus Clark and Wilbert Morris were shot to death on the 5000 block of South Indiana Avenue Thursday afternoon, both were 25, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner. Police said the two were found in a car, along with a weapon.
Police said the shots that killed Clark and Morris came from a gray Chrysler 300C. No one has been arrested for the shooting.
Pastor Corey Brooks’ church is about two miles from the site of the shooting. Brooks said he knew a bit about the background that might have prompted the shooting, but didn’t know specifics.
“A lot of times in our neighborhood, a lot of these shootings are retaliation shootings, and they don’t have to be individuals who were involved in shootings, they can be friends with individuals who can be involved in shootings … ’We can’t get them, we’ll get you,’” Brooks said.
‘Everybody wants to work’
Just about a month before the shooting, Brooks sat down for pizza with Clark and Morris at a Lou Malnati’s downtown.
For years, Brooks has been working to build a community center across the street from his New Beginnings Church. At Lou Malnati’s, he asked Clark and Morris for help negotiating peace between area gangs, so the community center could be a safe place for everyone.
He also offered the two of them a chance to participate in a construction class offered through Brooks’ nonprofit organization, Project HOOD.
“They were excited about it; they were excited that somebody would offer them an alternative. They wanted something different,” Brooks said of Clark and Morris.
Brooks said he’s run three of these construction training programs before. They’re aimed at people in gangs or with criminal records, and the people who finish the program get certified and placed in jobs.
“A lot of these guys are tired of being in the streets, tired of living that type of lifestyle, and they’re looking for opportunities and alternatives, and so when they’re provided with it they’ll take it,” Brooks said.
The dinner at the pizza shop was captured by filmmaker Gabe Klinger, who was following Brooks as part of a documentary on the pastor’s anti-violence efforts.
Klinger provided an edited video of the dinner to WBEZ.
“I mean, everybody wants to work,” Clark says in the video.
Clark and Morris can also be heard strategizing ways to get other young men involved in the program … and worrying that even if a lot of people bought into peace, it would only take a few people to ruin it.
Clark explains that there isn’t anyone in the community with the ability to tell people what to do or push them to stop shooting.
“You might have a few people who are working, they might not do nothing, but you know they got other folks who gonna want to back door, so then (the shooting is) still back on,” Clark can be heard saying in the video.
Klinger said the shooting left him feeling “helpless.”
“These two guys who we met with said they were interested in taking these training programs and starting a new life and here we are, they’re gone. It’s madness,” Klinger said.
‘Just hold on’
Levondale Glass was at the dinner, too. Glass works alongside Brooks trying to help stop the violence on Chicago’s South Side.
Glass said he had known Morris since Morris was in seventh grade and felt as if he was a part of the family. He laughed as he remembered him.
“Wilbert was full of life, funny. A child. I’ve heard different (bad) things but I never saw that in him. All I’ve seen was laughing, singing a song, playing, caring,” Glass said.
Morris lived with his mom, and Glass said the two were “crazy about each other.”
“She’s crushed. I’m crushed. It’s a lot of people crushed behind this.”
At the time of the Lou Malnati’s dinner, Morris had been out of prison for about two months. He had served almost a year for drug possession.
Morris’ criminal record shows two other stints in prison, one for aggravated battery, the other for an illegal gun.
But Glass said Morris was looking for a better way forward.
“I’ve got text messages from the man where he asks me and begs and pleads for me to hurry up and find him something else to do,” Glass said.
Glass sent a screenshot to WBEZ that he said showed part of the text message conversation between him and Morris in early December of last year.
In it, Morris tells Glass he’s trying not to “fall back in to no bs.”
“Trust me I already know, I’m on something now, just hold on,” Glass texted back.
Morris sent a one word response: “Love.”
‘A real sweetheart’
Clark lived with his longtime girlfriend, Raven Smith. She described him as a people person, and a “nice, supportive” boyfriend.
“He liked to be around people and be happy and laugh and play,” she said. “He was kind. He was a real sweetheart.”
Clark leaves behind a 3-year-old daughter.
His record shows several arrests, including a robbery in 2011 for which he was sentenced to three years in prison.
Smith said Clark used to get in trouble, but she saw he wanted a change.
Brooks said his outreach to Clark and Morris was part of an effort to try and help the “hardcore guys” on the streets of Chicago.
“What the city needs to know is this: that until they provide alternative options (and) opportunities for individuals who are on the fringes, they’re going to continue to get (shootings like) this,” Brooks said.
Patrick Smith reports on criminal justice for WBEZ. Follow him @pksmid.