69-year-old mother of 5 killed in crossfire in Auburn Gresham: ‘How does this happen to somebody like my mom?’

As Gale Stephen drove through the neighborhood, someone began firing toward a nearby gas station, and the 69-year-old was caught in the crossfire.

SHARE 69-year-old mother of 5 killed in crossfire in Auburn Gresham: ‘How does this happen to somebody like my mom?’
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Gale Stephen

Provided

When her family needed Gale Stephen, she was there. The 69-year-old mother of five did not miss a graduation, a birthday, a holiday or a funeral.

Last Memorial Day Weekend was no different. Stephen’s cousin recently died, and she insisted on driving herself to the funeral Saturday, even though her daughter wanted her to take it easy.

“She was going to support someone else. ... It didn’t matter, my mom was going to be there,” her daughter Lisa Stephen told the Sun-Times. “She shared herself with everyone.”

Stephen never made it to the funeral home.

On her way there, as she drove through the Auburn Gresham neighborhood, someone began firing toward a gas station, and Stephen was caught in the crossfire.

When officers arrived at the scene in the 7900 block of South Ashland, they found three people who had been shot while standing at the Falcon Fuel station. All were taken to hospitals with injuries that were not life-threatening injuries, police said.

Then someone alerted officers to Stephen’s car. She was found unresponsive with a gunshot wound to her chest. She was taken to the University of Chicago Medical Center, where she was pronounced.

“The fact that she died alone in that car is crushing,” her daughter said, speaking through tears. “My mom was asthmatic, so I can imagine when that bullet hit her chest. … She couldn’t breathe (and) she was alone.”

Stephen was among at least 12 people killed across the city over the holiday weekend, the most violent Memorial Day since 71 people were shot in 2016 holiday.

Questions consume Stephen’s daughters, who want to know how this happened and how long it took for officers to administer care.

“How does this happen to somebody like my mom, who was a peaceful person?” her daughter Marcia Burgess asked. “How does something so violent happen to such a woman? She had a violent death … and that doesn’t fit who she was.”

Stephen was born in Belize and brought her family to Chicago, where she raised her three daughters and two sons on her own. She worked as a certified nursing assistant, often helping elderly people through their final days.

She recently retired but did not slow down, according to her daughters. She brought her grandchildren to and from school almost every day and cooked for them every Sunday, even when her oldest grandson insisted he could cook for himself.

“She was going to feed us no matter what,” Lisa Stephen said. “She was always giving.”

Stephen was set to return to Belize this summer for a monthlong trip with her cousin. But she pushed it back so she could attend the graduation ceremony of two grandchildren the first week of June.

She instilled the value of education in her children and grandchildren, and she could not wait for the June 2 ceremony where Lisa’s son Mason would deliver the valedictorian speech.

Stephen will still be mentioned in the speech, even if she won’t be there.

“She gave her all to everybody,” Lisa Stephen said. “ She put everybody first, and she was always going. ... If you needed her help, she was there to offer that. She was always strong, always a shoulder to lean on.”

Police have not released any details of their investigation. Nine shell casings were recovered in an empty lot across from the gas station where three of the victims stood.

Hours earlier, a man was found shot to death less than a mile away, in the 7800 block of South Seeley Avenue. No one is in custody for that shooting either.

Both attacks occurred in the Gresham police district, among the most violent police districts in the city last weekend, with at least seven people shot.

“This shouldn’t have to be a normal thing in the community that we live in,” Marcia Burgess said. “This shouldn’t have to happen.”

“I shouldn’t lose my mom when she’s driving down the street,” Burgess said. “There seems to be no empathy left in our community sometimes, because how could you just do this?”

Stephen’s daughter Tiffany Burgess added, “This is breaking our hearts. My heart is broken.”

The family has started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for Stephen’s funeral and burial.

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