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Grief still raw for Adam Toledo’s family as they announce plans for a rural refuge for inner-city kids

Adam’s Place is expected to open next year in rural Wisconsin.

Attorney John Hirschhorn speaks at a news  conference in front of an Adam Toledo mural at 3661 W. Ogden Ave in Little Village, Wednesday, May 26, 2021.
Plans for Adam’s Place, a rural refuge for at-risk youth, were announced Wednesday in front of a mural painted in memory of Adam Toledo.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Children chased after one another and sucked ice pops in the sticky, midday heat while other guests clustered and ate tacos from paper plates.

In the midst of the gathering, a tiny woman in pressed black pants and a cream blouse sipped bottled water. She said she didn’t feel like eating.

There were balloons for Adam Toledo — in his favorite colors of blue, black and white — but this wasn’t the kind of celebration Betty Toledo had in mind for her son.

“Today would have been Adam’s 14th birthday. It is hard for me to say these words. I wish he were here and we were having pizza and cake.”

Those were Betty Toledo’s words, but spoken Wednesday by her attorney, Adeena Weiss Ortiz, because the grieving mother just didn’t feel up to speaking in public. Toledo stood nearby beneath a mural of her son, painted on a brick wall at the intersection of Ogden and Lawndale avenues.

Elizabeth Toledo listens to Adeen Weiss as she reads Toledo’s prepared statement during a news  conference Wednesday, May 26, , 2021, at the Adam Toledo mural at 3661 W. Ogden Ave in Little Village,
Betty Toledo listens as Adeen Weiss reads Toledo’s prepared statement during a news conference Wednesday announcing plans for Adam’s Place, a refuge of at-risk youth.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

A Chicago police officer fatally shot Adam in the early-morning hours of March 29 after chasing him down an alley next to Farragut Career Academy in Little Village. A gun was found near where Adam was shot. The encounter was captured on police-worn body cameras and was released to the public in April, which prompted mass protests and international attention.

On Wednesday, as family and friends remembered Adam, they announced plans for a rural sanctuary on 70 acres in southern Wisconsin envisioned as a kind of escape for city kids like Adam.

“What I really want is to have Adam back, and I can’t do that,” Ortiz said, reading Betty Toledo’s words. “But we can try to help other families protect their sons from the temptations that took Adam into the streets that night — the night he was killed.”

When Adam’s Place is complete, perhaps a year or so from now, there’s expected to be land for crops, a livestock barn and bunks for eight kids ages 10 to 14 as well as a place for parents to come and visit their children, organizers said.

“We know Adam would have loved a place in the country, where boys can learn to be responsible by helping take care of animals,” Ortiz said.

As Ortiz spoke, a few dozens supporters watched, many wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with Adam’s likeness and a halo above his head. Silver balloons shaped into the number 14 fluttered in the wind.

Adam had four siblings. His sister, Esmeralda Toledo, 24, was among those who spoke, her words often interrupted by tears.

“He was a kid who was just learning his way around the world and he deserved the chance to make mistakes and learn from them — as we all do — because no one is perfect,” Toledo said. “A little kid should not have to die as punishment for his mistakes.”

Toledo urged people to show compassion for a family still grieving.

“Everyone is just judging and assuming things from the last few moments and the minutes of his life,” she said. “I was there. I watched him learn how to walk, learn how to crawl. I was there. I saw him grow a little mustache. I heard his voice change. I heard his jokes and his laughter.”