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Santa surprises Chicago girl, 6, who was wounded in a shooting that killed her sister: ‘I love her’

“The look on her face was priceless,” Aubrey Broughton’s dad said. “She’s so happy. I know she can’t wait to get home and open up everything.”

Early Walker, dressed as Santa Claus, hugs Aubrey Broughton, sister of 7-year-old Serenity Brughton, who was fatally shot in August, in the parking lot of the 5th District Police station in Pullman on Friday.
Early Walker, dressed as Santa Claus, hugs Aubrey Broughton, sister of 7-year-old Serenity Brughton, who was fatally shot in August, in the parking lot of the 5th District Police station in Pullman on Friday.
Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

Aubrey Broughton’s sixth Christmas Eve started in a curious way: sitting in a van with her parents in the parking lot of the Chicago Police Department’s 5th District station in Pullman.

“What’s going on?” she kept asking her mom and dad, Danielle and Michael.

They told her the family was making a quick stop on their way to McDonald’s. A few minutes turned into 10, then 20.

Then, the long wait proved worth it. In came Santa Claus on his sleigh, OK, a horse-drawn carriage, with toys in tow — literally in tow, carried on the back of two tow trucks playing Christmas music.

Aubrey’s face lit up when she saw the man in red, her mask unable to hide her smile. When the sleigh pulled up, she walked up to Santa and gave him a high-five. Saint Nick asked whether she’d been naughty or nice this year, and Aubrey whispered “nice,” then began digging through her new toys.

In a very trying year, it was just what Aubrey and her parents needed. In August, Aubrey’s older sister Serenity Broughton, 7, was killed in a shooting outside their grandma’s house on the Northwest Side. Aubrey was wounded but survived.

Aireon Luster, 24, later was arrested and has been charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder in the shooting, which happened in an alley in the 6200 block of West Grand Avenue as the girls’ mother was getting them into their car.

“The look on her face was priceless,” Michael Broughton said after Santa’s business was over. “She’s so happy. I know she can’t wait to get home and open up everything. I’m not getting any sleep: She’s going to be up all night.

“Every day is different,” he said of the grieving process the past few months. “All she ever says is, ‘I miss my sister so much.’ They were so close. And the memories I have of that day, there are certain things that trigger me.”

Aubrey Broughton opens her new Christmas presents during a surprise visit from Santa Claus.
Aubrey Broughton, 6, opens her new Christmas presents during a surprise visit Friday from Santa Claus.
Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

Danielle Broughton said she tries to mourn when Aubrey is in school or asleep, so she can be strong for her daughter and help her deal with the loss of her sister.

“Every day is still a struggle,” she said. “But I stand strong because I still have Aubrey here. In front of her, I’m all smiles and happy and encouraging her to think of positivity about her sister.

“To see her face light up the way it did means the world to me.”

Aubrey Broughton (right) with her big sister Serenity Broughton, who died after both were hit in a shooting Aug. 15.
Aubrey Broughton (right) with her big sister Serenity Broughton, who died after both were hit in a shooting Aug. 15.
Provided

On his days off, Santa goes by the name of Early Walker. He owns a towing company and is the founder of the anti-violence group “I’m Telling, Don’t Shoot.” Walker said he wanted to give Aubrey a positive memory to hold onto from this year.

“We often highlight the violence in the community, but we always forget about the trauma it causes the family, it causes the kids,” he said, as his helpers — the carriage and tow truck drivers — stood by, wearing elf hats.

Aubrey Broughton, held by horse-owner Carrie Johnson, reacts as she pets “Money” Friday in the parking lot of the 5th District police station in Pullman.
Aubrey Broughton, held by horse-owner Carrie Johnson, reacts as she pets “Money” Friday in the parking lot of the 5th District police station in Pullman.
Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

On her non-gift-delivering days, Santa’s reindeer, Prancer, is a horse named “Money” whose owner, Carrie Johnson, scrapped her Christmas plans at the last minute to make the surprise happen.

“When Early called me, I canceled my Hawaii trip to do this,” Johnson said, standing with a hat and coat on in the windy (but mild for a Chicago Christmas Eve) weather. “My family was already there waiting for me, and they’re, like, ‘Oh, my God, you’re not coming?’ It meant a lot to me to be here and see her happy.”

Holding one of her several new dolls after the commotion calmed, Aubrey said her first thought when she saw the carriage was “my sister. Because I love her.”

Aubrey said she was most excited for her new Barbie. But she tossed Barbie aside and yelled “doll house!” when Santa pulled that toy out.

Johnson held Aubrey up near Money to pet her, but she jumped back — half startled and half laughing — when the horse whinnied.

Her toys packed up, Aubrey didn’t get to go to McDonald’s like she expected. But she got the next best thing: time with her family and a home-cooked meal at grandma’s house.

Plus, of course, her new toys to play with all night.