Why an unthinkable murder at Navy Pier hit me so hard despite my years on the police beat

TOM SCHUBA: Becoming a father during the pandemic has changed my outlook toward covering public safety — particularly when crimes involve young children. So when a woman was accused of drowning her nephew, a sense of doom stuck with me.

SHARE Why an unthinkable murder at Navy Pier hit me so hard despite my years on the police beat
Red police tape is wrapped around the chain at the site where Victoria Moreno, 34, allegedly pushed her nephew into the water at Navy Pier in September.

Red police tape is wrapped around the chain at the site where Victoria Moreno, 34, allegedly pushed her nephew into the water at Navy Pier in September.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

I welcomed my first child in December 2020, a COVID baby named Edith Rose who spent her first months nestled inside a Noble Square apartment, insulated from the political unrest and violence that festered outside.

I was told to cherish those early moments, to embrace the bubble at home. But within a few weeks, I was back to work, covering the world outside our four walls.

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Chicago Sun-Times reporter Tom Schuba and his daughter, Edith

Tom Schuba/Sun-Times

By then, I’d reported on crime for years and thought I’d grown inured to the violence that often drives the news cycle in Chicago. In a matter of months, the fatal shootings of two 7-year-old girls, Jaslyn Adams and Serenity Broughton, proved that wasn’t the case.

As I grew as a father and built a bond with Edith, or Edie as we call her, violent attacks affecting children started sticking with me long after deadline. So on the afternoon of Sept. 19, as officials rushed to pull a young boy from Lake Michigan near Navy Pier and questions arose about whether it was accidental or not, I was left with a bad feeling.

Within hours, my darkest fears were confirmed. Law enforcement sources told me 3-year-old Josiah Brown had been tossed into the water by a relative — accounts that were backed up by a police report I later obtained.

In the ensuing days, as Josiah clung to life, his aunt was charged in the incident, which officials said was captured by surveillance footage at the pier. Victoria Moreno, 34, had thrown her nephew in the water and watched him sink without calling for help, prosecutors alleged before she was denied bail.

The boy was pronounced dead on Sept. 25, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

Moreno had taken him from a family home in Des Plaines, stealing the keys to a truck before sneaking out, prosecutors said. She had taken several children to Navy Pier a week earlier.

Moreno’s public defender said she suffers from “severe mental health” issues, suggesting the attack was precipitated by a psychotic break and was not premeditated.

Several Sun-Times staffers tried their best to understand the unthinkable.

My colleague David Struett traveled to Des Plaines and learned from Moreno’s neighbors that Josiah’s father had serious health issues. He had posted on social media about being diagnosed with congestive heart failure days before Josiah was born, and he had recently started an online fundraiser seeking help to pay for a heart transplant.

Several neighbors were shocked to learn of the allegations against Moreno. Some of them said they hadn’t seen her at the family home in a decade and were surprised she still lived there. One neighbor recalled her being escorted from a block party years ago and suspected she may have been on drugs at the time.

Meanwhile, I spoke to witnesses who saw Josiah struggling and called for help, one of whom described the “absolutely horrible” moment his face sunk into the water. She said the incident “hit … a lot harder” because she’s the mother of three young children.

Josiah Brown

Josiah Brown

Provided

“It’s just been very, very hard to kind of cope with and wrap my mind around how that could’ve happened,” she said. “And you deal with the guilt of ... how else could I have helped? Or what else could I have done? Or did I do things fast enough?”

After laboring over the details and finishing the story, I stepped out of my office grappling with some of the same feelings.

My mom had come in town for a few days to help my wife and me look after Edie, who by then had grown into a babbling toddler obsessed with Buzz Lightyear and swinging at the park. While it was nice to be together, my mind raced with thoughts of Josiah, his sick father and, mostly, Moreno.

I felt a sense of dread that’s stuck with me — even inside the bubble.

Chicago Police Department and Fire Department officials investigate after a 3-year-old boy was pulled from Lake Michigan near Navy Pier, Monday afternoon, Sept. 19, 2022.

Chicago Police Department and Fire Department officials investigate after a 3-year-old boy was pulled from Lake Michigan near Navy Pier, Monday afternoon, Sept. 19, 2022.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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