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Grandmother of slain South Shore children: ‘It’s hard. It hurts.’

Zera Newell said her daughter took the boys to a women’s shelter earlier this week, where her daughter asked the staff to take the children away from her.

A broken screen hangs in an 11th-floor window of an apartment building in South Shore, where two boys were killed Thursday.
A broken screen hangs in an 11th-floor window of an apartment building in South Shore, where two boys were killed Thursday. Investigators suspect the boys’ mother stabbed her grandfather and tossed one boy out a window before jumping out herself — leaving a 7-month-old son dead in a bathtub.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Zera Newell says the doctors at the University of Chicago Medical Center are giving her daughter a “50/50” shot at survival.

But before visiting her in the hospital Friday afternoon, Newell first went to the morgue to see her 2-year and 7-month-old grandsons, Johntavis and Ameer.

“It’s hard. It hurts,” she said. “And it ain’t gonna go away that quick. It’s not.”

“I don’t know what they’re going to do with my daughter. I don’t know if she’s going to live or die. So that’s the waiting game.”

Newell’s life changed immeasurably this week.

Police say Newell’s daughter, 20, killed her sons in an attempted murder-suicide at a high-rise at 7251 S. South Shore Drive shortly before 2 a.m. Thursday.

Investigators suspect Newell’s daughter stabbed her grandfather and tossed Johntavis out of the 11th story window before jumping out herself — leaving 7-month-old Ameer dead in a bathtub.

Scaffolding broke the woman’s fall. She and her grandfather remained hospitalized Friday. The Sun-Times is not naming her because she has not been charged.

“My daughter, I don’t know what was going on, but I know deep inside she loved her kids,” Newell said. “And my grandsons, I’m not gonna never forget them. I wanna always remember the good times I had with them for two years and seven months.”

Newell said her daughter had previously shown signs of depression, but that those symptoms had subsided.

“I thought she was over that,” but “maybe behind closed doors it was another thing,” Newell said.

“I didn’t know that, deep inside, she was hurting. She didn’t come to me for help.”

Instead, Newell said, her daughter took the boys to a women’s shelter earlier this week, where her daughter asked the staff to take the children away from her.

Her daughter’s decision to seek outside help before coming to her will haunt Newell.

“That’s the question that’s going to be in my head all the time because I took care of them all the time,” she said. “I watched them all the time and I took care of them, so I wonder why.”

Chicago Police adjust the crime scene tape at a high-rise apartment building in the 7200 block of South South Shore Drive, where two children died.
Chicago Police adjust the crime scene tape Thursday at a high-rise apartment building in the 7200 block of South South Shore Drive, where two children died.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Newell said Johntavis and Ameer — she nicknamed them “John John” and “Chubby” — had already developed distinct personalities and characters.

Johntavis, she said, “was funny, active, creative,” while Ameer was constantly “kissin’ on me and laughin,’ ’cause I was always making him laugh. And he loved me and I loved him.”

Newell said she expects funeral services for both boys will be next week, though it’s not yet clear if it will be a joint ceremony.

Earlier this week, Newell and her family moved out of their Auburn Gresham home to a bigger house a few miles south, one that had plenty of room for the two boys.

Outside the former home Thursday morning, a longtime Newell family friend remembered a “loving family.”

The friend said, though, that the deaths of the boys were not the Newell family’s first brush with tragedy in recent years.

In the summer of 2018, he said, three members of the family — including the hospitalized woman’s brother — were shot and wounded outside the Auburn Gresham home.