Neighbors ‘traumatized’ on block where pregnant mom, grandma killed

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Tio Hardiman, founder of Violence Interrupters Inc., and Chicago State University President Wayne Watson, whose family home is a block away, talked with residents on the block where a pregnant mother and grandmother were killed. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

How does a block get back to normal after witnessing a grandmother and a pregnant mother getting killed, and an 11-month-old boy and two others injured in a drive-by shooting on a warm day in early fall that brought everyone out on their porches?

On Tuesday, residents in the 5300 block of South Aberdeen in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, where the horror played out the night before, were asking themselves that question.

“I’m traumatized, just traumatized. Who could sleep last night after seeing that? How do you forget it?” asked Rhonda Smith, 53, who was sitting on the porch next door when a car full of young men drove by.

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“They were driving real slow. Then, when they got in front of the house, they double-parked, and I saw the window roll down. Then all I saw was the gunfire, Lolita falling. It went on forever,” she said.

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Tio Hardiman, founder of Violence Interrupters Inc., talks with Renee Williams, a neighbor who tried to help the injured after a drive-by shooting Monday that killed a pregnant mother and grandmother and injured three others. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

Lolita Wells, 47, and her daughter, Patricia Chew, 24, were killed. Chew’s son Princeton, 11 months old, remained hospitalized at Stroger Hospital. Two 25-year-old male family members also were wounded and were still in the hospital Tuesday.

As residents tried to process the tragedy, young men gathered on the block, several of them with obvious gang tattoos.

Older men gathered on the block as well, including former Cease Fire leader Tio Hardiman, now heading the acclaimed Violence Interrupters Inc. group he founded, and Chicago State University President Wayne Watson, whose family home is a block away.

“We have to be here,” said Hardiman, who arrived with anti-violence activist Ameena Matthews and spent hours talking with the young men.

“I’m sorry to say that a certain segment of our youth population gets caught up into petty arguments with one another, and it goes from one to 10, 10 being the kill zone, right away. In a situation where you have a mother and grandmother shot and killed, somebody has lost their mind, or is on an all-time high, totally immersed in homicidal thinking,” he said. “The black community desperately needs to heal.”

Watson, who arrived later, and also walked the block, agreed.

“I grew up here, raised all my children here. When I heard about this, I said I’ve got to drive over there and talk to these young brothers,” he said. “There are families here, and we must remember that, and there’s an underculture here working against families. But they deserve the same security, dignity, as elsewhere in the city.”

Neighbor Renee Williams, a certified nursing assistant who helped tend to the injured Tuesday, shook as she recalled what she witnessed.

“We’ve known Lolita and her kids for years. Her boyfriend, Kenny, was like my brother. We all grew up together,” she said.

“My family was on the porch, and we had just gone in at 6:50 to watch ‘Love and Hip Hop.’ At 7:18 on the head, all hell breaks loose. We hear ‘Pow, pow, pow, pow.’ Sounded like about 50 rounds. Then they paused for three seconds, and let go another 50. We’re crawling on the floor until it stopped,” Williams recounted to Hardiman.

“I ran outside in my nightgown, told the children to grab my equipment from the car and some towels. What I saw was ugly,” she said. “Lolita was on the curb, Kenny screaming for her. Patricia had fallen straight on her back. The sons were in the gangway. Lolita’s other daughter was sitting against a tree, holding Princeton.”

It was Williams who called the police during the gunfire. They arrived quickly but blocked the street so that ambulances couldn’t come through, and neighbors became angry, she said.

Persha Chew, 26, who spent most of Tuesday at Stroger with her nephew, Princeton, arrived home in the evening, drained. As she flipped through photos of the mother and sister she had just lost, she was shaking.

“We were all standing out there talking. We were heading to go see my other sister from Arizona, who we hadn’t seen in years. Yesterday was her last day in Chicago, so we were all going,” she said.

“My brother and I went to bring food in the house, and then we heard shots. We ran out and I saw my Mama and them laying on the ground. Mama had laid on top of my daughter to protect her, and Kenny was laying on top of Patricia’s oldest son, Marykl. I ran and grabbed Princeton,” she said. “I don’t know why this happened. I don’t know.”

Persha Chew, 26, looks through photos of her mother and pregnant sister who were killed in a drive-by shooting Monday that also hospitalized her 11-month-old nephew. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

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