Alexis Stubbs’ death was as tragic as any murder we’ve seen in this often-violent city — a 12-year-old girl stabbed to death at home, allegedly by the same man who was locked up for choking her mom a few years ago.
Alexis’ short life, though, was far from bleak. There were people dedicated to helping her overcome enormously difficult circumstances, so she could have a happy childhood and a good chance at a stable, productive future.
Every weekday, Alexis would spend about three hours at the after-school program in the apartment building where she lived with her mom and where she was killed.
For 21 years, the clean, red-brick building in the Sheridan Park neighborhood quietly has provided government-subsidized housing for families affected by HIV and AIDS.
The nonprofit group that owns and manages the 15-unit building, Chicago House and Social Service Agency, also runs the after-school program for about 20 kids who live there with their families.
Before doing her homework in the program room, Alexis always made sure to give hugs to the tutors and all the other children. Later on in the afternoon, she would read to the younger kids during the 20 minutes when she was required to do extra reading.
“In the three or four years she was here, I’d never seen her have an argument or disagreement with another kid,” says Sharonda Clay, the program’s education coordinator. “The kids are taking it pretty hard because everyone was close to her.”
The building is safe and the people who live and work in it had never experienced anything like Alexis’ murder, Clay says.
Still, she adds, “A lot of our kids do go through a lot. They have experienced a lot of life. She had experienced a lot but she was so resilient, so strong.
“Even when things were chaotic for her, she always found the positive and was looking for the good in other people. The way Alexis reacted to things made her so strong. She was even strong in that moment.”
Just before 31-year-old John Singleton stabbed her to death on June 11, prosecutors say Alexis told him, “Daddy, don’t do it.”
Although authorities say Alexis had a “stepfather relationship” with Singleton, he was paroled only a few days before. He had been imprisoned since his conviction in 2014 for attacking Alexis’ mother — a crime Alexis witnessed.
Staff members at the building say they didn’t know Singleton.
“He was not a resident here,” says Scott Ammarell, executive director of Chicago House. “Whether he stayed overnight, I don’t know.”
Ammarell says the media attention to the murder there also deeply upset the people who live in the building. They fear their otherwise-normal lives will be disrupted because people now know the units are for families affected by HIV and AIDS.
“The stigma definitely still exists,” Ammarell says. “Those who are mired in the stigma are going to paint with a broad brush every single person that lives here, and will make the assumption that everyone who lives here is HIV positive. That’s completely untrue.”
The people there are “living full lives,” he says, and many good things happen in the building, too. Especially in the after-school room, which offers music, art and theater programs in addition to tutoring and mentoring.
Even as they continued to struggle with Alexis’ loss, Clay and another staff member went Thursday to the 8th-grade graduation of another pupil, a valedictorian who will go to high school at Loyola Academy.
Clay says all six kids who live in the building and are now finishing high school will attend college in the fall. Their destinations include Temple University, St. Louis University, Columbia College and Cornell University.
Lamin Johnson, 18, says he’s headed to Cornell on a full-tuition scholarship. “It’s not just a tutoring organization — it’s a family,” says Lamin, who lived in the building for two years.
There was no reason, he says, that little Alexis could not have followed in his footsteps.
At age 12, she was a “girly girl,” a typical preteen who loved to do her hair and make-up more than anything. To encourage her interest, the staff at the after-school program were arranging for her to shadow a beautician this summer, Clay says.
Instead, they devised a memorial to Alexis on a dry-erase board in the program room, drawing hearts and writing messages to her.
“Lexi, I love your style and your natural hair.”
“I love you Alexis, you’re the most caring person I know.”
“I will miss your hugs, kind words and beautiful hair.”
“Thank you God for letting us enjoy our little angel for just a short time. Rest my little angel.”