Many but not all of the 324 murder victims in Chicago in the first half of this year were caught up in gang battles or drug dealing. Some snapshots of the dead:
Dying over drugs
Drug dealers sometimes fight over lucrative spots for street sales. The police think Derrius Lares was a victim of one of those conflicts.
Lares was convicted of marijuana possession six times from 2012 to 2015 and did short stints in jail as a result.
On Jan. 12, police officers — conducting surveillance at South Homan Avenue and Harrison Street “due to the gang violence over street territory for cannabis sales” — arrested Lares after seeing him pull baggies from his waistband and exchange them for cash, according to a police report.
Lares spent two days in jail before getting out. A week later, Lares was shot to death, apparently from a car, at Homan and Polk Street. No one has been charged in his death. Investigators are pursuing drugs as the motive.
Another drug killing
In some North Side neighborhoods, the drug trade is conducted behind closed doors. But it can still turn deadly.
Matthew Ehrenberg was the first of the city’s 12 white murder victims in the first half of 2016. Ehrenberg, 37, had a minor criminal history — a 1998 conviction for misdemeanor marijuana possession.
Years later, he was warned by drug dealers not to sell out of his Northwest Side home, according to the police.
On Jan. 18, Ehrenberg was gunned down at close range after a fight with two men at his two-flat. Police said they found an ounce of marijuana and baggies of cocaine in the home. The case remains unsolved.
A gang shooting?
In African-American neighborhoods in Chicago, the conflicts that lead to shootings often involve small gang factions or individuals. In Hispanic areas, a frequent element is loyalty to large, structured gangs.
One of this year’s murder victims, Vincente Avila, was convicted in 2013 of illegal gun possession and sentenced to a year in prison. Last year, he was convicted of reckless conduct after the police said he flashed Two-Six gang signs and shouted “King killas” at a high school cross-country team.
On Feb. 13, Avila, 23, was shot in the chest and killed by someone in a Chevrolet Suburban who pulled up next to the car carrying Avila and two friends — all members of the Two-Six gang — in the 6800 block of South Lawndale, according to a report from the Cook County medical examiner’s office. Avila’s two friends were wounded.
An unintended victim
Occasionally, a stray bullet intended for a rival gang member claims the life of an unintended victim. It appears that’s what happened to Aaren O’Connor, 25, who’d moved to Chicago from California in 2014 to be near her boyfriend.
On Feb. 5, just before 7 p.m., she was in her car outside her Pilsen apartment, talking on her cellphone with her sister, when she was hit by a bullet the police believe was fired during a gang fight nearby. O’Connor died two days later.
On Feb. 2, Matabias Biles, 34, got into an argument with a juvenile stepson the police say is mentally ill. They say he grabbed a knife and stabbed Biles in the face and chest. Biles drove himself to a hospital, where he died. The stepson was arrested, but prosecutors decided not to bring charges.
Some deaths a mystery
In March 2015, the police said they caught Anthony Howard with a handgun that had been stolen in a burglary in Aurora five years earlier. They say he begged officers to let him go, saying he’d bought the gun for protection after a mail carrier was shot and killed nearby two days earlier. “I ain’t a gangbanger or nothing,” he told them. Howard was charged with being an armed habitual criminal and released on bail.
In some unsolved cases, it’s not clear what happened or why.
His girlfriend, Kiara Rhone, said he was working to turn his life around, that he had a job as a forklift operator and that, in January, the couple had twin boys.
But on June 4, Howard was playing dice with a group near his Austin home when someone walked up and shot him “without provocation,” according to police.
Rhone says she can’t believe how many guns are on the street. “If you love your family, you live your life, and you’re doing something that can cause you to lose it, it’s not worth it.”