May was a difficult month for Anganet Johnson.
This holiday weekend marks the day a year ago when her daughter was struck and killed by a truck after running onto Lake Shore Drive while fleeing an armed robbery.
The murder of Pamela Johnson, 32, occurring on Chicago’s Gold Coast on May 29, 2016, made headlines.
Two men were eventually charged in the horrific incident, indicted on seven counts each of first-degree murder, attempted armed robbery with a firearm and mob action.
Pamela Johnson left behind a son, Malik, now 13 and headed to high school.
Malik’s mother would have turned 33 on May 11. Her birthday was three days before Mother’s Day. And Mother’s Day was two weeks before the anniversary of her death.
“Yeah, this month was hard,” said Anganet Johnson, 53, of South Chicago, now raising her grandson and faithfully attending every court hearing as she awaits the trial.
Devonte M. Dodd, 20, and Semaj Waters, 18, were among seven or eight men who had approached Pamela Johnson and her boyfriend as they strolled along the lake in the 600 block of North Lake Shore Drive on a beautiful evening turned nightmare.
The men chased the scared young mother onto Lake Shore Drive, where she was fatally struck.
Waters is accused of brandishing the gun; Dodd, of announcing the robbery.
“Sad to say, two young black men,” said Anganet Johnson.
For this grandmother, the past year has been tough all around.
“I lost my job because I needed counseling, and took time off. It’s interesting when this kind of thing happens to you, and your job says, ‘You know, you only get five bereavement days.’ I’m like, ‘Five? Her death hasn’t even set in yet,'” she said.
“Then there were all these hoops and paperwork, running back and forth to provide verification of the mental health treatment I was getting, then being denied short-term disability,” the grandmother recounted.
“I finally ended the unpaid leave, because at the same time I had to be here for my grandson, and get him counseling too. The Salvation Army has a program for kids in this situation. They were coming to the house,” she said.
“Add to that going back and forth to court because the father, who wasn’t in his life before, suddenly wanted custody; and then trying to keep up with court dates for the men charged with her murder,” she said. “It was just a lot.”
Her struggles, however, have yielded fruit. She won guardianship of Malik.
And the teen, who was drawing “D” grades after his mom’s murder, will graduate June 19 on the honor roll at Arnold Mireles Academy.
“He got really focused, and became an ‘A’ and ‘B’ student,” said his grandmother. “He’s so excited about graduation. He says he wants to be an engineer.”
On a recent day, Anganet Johnson was rushing to go pick up the shirt Malik would wear to his eighth-grade graduation luncheon, and counting among her blessings this grandchild affected by Chicago’s violence.
“When Pam dropped him off to me that evening, she told him, ‘I’ll be back,’ and she never came back. He’s come pretty far for a boy who lost his mother overnight,” she said.
She and her grandson get by with support from their family and their church. Her late daughter, the second of her three children, had been a member of Triedstone Full Gospel Baptist since childhood. An older brother lives in downstate Bloomington. A younger sister just finished sophomore year at Alabama State University.
On her daughter’s birthday, 10 carloads of family members and friends drove out to Cedar Park Cemetery and released a zillion red balloons, her favorite color; white ones too, representing angels. Anganet Johnson had depended on donations to bury her daughter, and had not been able to buy a gravestone.
Deciding it isn’t fitting for the young mother not to have a marker for her grave, the family hopes to raise the money through a GoFundMe page — www.gofundme.com/Memorial4Pam — and maybe start a college fund for Malik with what’s left over.
The grandmother will be back in court Wednesday, when the accused again goes before Cook County Judge Joseph Claps. But this Memorial Day, she’s cherishing memories of her daughter, hosting a barbecue in her honor.
“Malik asked me, ‘Grandma, what are we doing on Monday?’ The family decided to have a memorial, get T-shirts made with her picture, to raise money among family and friends for Malik’s graduation,” Anganet Johnson said. “Pam was such a wonderful daughter and mother. I do not want her story to be forgotten.”