In his yard in North Kenwood, only a few blocks from the lakefront and just six blocks north of President Barack Obama’s home, Isaac Monroe learned “you can’t wash blood off the grass.”
After hearing a barrage of gunfire the evening of Sept. 19, Monroe went outside to find an innocent, 14-year-old victim of the city’s violence a few yards from his back doorstep, legs on the driveway and bleeding head on the lawn.
Once the police removed the body of high school freshman Tyjuan Poindexter, Monroe hosed off the blood that had seeped onto his concrete driveway.
But the blood wouldn’t come off the grass, no matter how much water Monroe used.
Tyjuan’s distraught mother — who waited five hours for the crime tape to come down so she could go to the spot where her son died — was drawn to it.
“She kept trying to put her hands there,” Monroe says. “That’s all she had left of him.”
Deciding it would be too traumatic to just leave the blood on the grass, Monroe dug up that spot of his lawn and planted mums in the dirt where Tyjuan’s head had come to rest.
It’s been nearly four months since the shooting outside his home, and Monroe had never met Tyjuan, but he is determined not to erase the memory of what happened.
Violence had never touched Monroe, 64, or his family. A lifelong Chicagoan, he’s pretty much the embodiment of the African-American dream his father sought when he moved to Chicago from Arkansas.
Monroe enjoyed a successful career as a vice president of the union representing Amtrak’s on-board workers. His older daughter is a doctor, and her younger sister is a pre-med student at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
He lives in a brick two-flat that he renovated into a stylish single-family home. The first-floor living room is filled with works of art collected from travels as far away as Ghana, Brazil, Benin and Togo.
When he bought the building almost 20 years ago, the corner lot next to it was a vacant, city-owned tract where, amid the hulks of two abandoned cars, gang members peddled drugs “like they were selling fruit,” Monroe says.
To protect himself and his property, he bought the vacant lot from the city and encircled it and the house with the ubiquitous symbol of Chicago-style gentrification: a wrought-iron fence.
Last September, Monroe just happened to leave open the sliding gate at the end of his driveway on the cool, late-summer evening when Tyjuan and three friends were walking by on their way to play basketball at the Kennicott Park fieldhouse and were attacked.
Monroe had gotten home about 30 minutes earlier, at about 7 p.m. He went next door to have a piece of birthday cake in honor of his neighbor. That’s where he “heard a pop-pop-pop, and everybody just hit the floor of the dining room,” he says.
When the shooting stopped, his neighbor’s niece looked out and told him there were two kids down in his yard.
One of them survived despite serious injuries to his legs that kept him from being able to go to school until a few weeks before Christmas. The other two kids escaped without harm by running through the gangway between his house and the neighbor’s house.
When Monroe walked out to check on Tyjuan, he says, “It was pretty obvious he was gone, with the amount of blood pooling under his head.”
The drive-by shooting remains unsolved, according to the police.
“This was an innocent victim who was tragically murdered,” police spokesman Frank Giancamilli says.
Shortly before the shooting, witnesses said there was a gang-related altercation nearby. Police told Monroe and other neighbors that the shooter — or shooters — mistook Tyjuan and his friends for rival gang members.
Now, police say they’re focused on finding anyone who might have been driving in the area at the time. The car used in the shooting was a four-door Chevy Malibu or Impala, maybe white or gray.
“CPD was not able to get any plates on the vehicle,” says Giancamilli, the police spokesman. “It is also possible that it may have been a rental car.”
For 10 days after the shooting, Tyjuan’s friends and family kept up a steady parade to Monroe’s yard. They left candles and balloons and posted signs on the black, six-foot-high fence in tribute to Tyjuan.
A sign left near the spot where Tyjuan Poindexter died outside Isaac Monroe’s home in the Kenwood neighborhood in September. Supplied photo.
Nothing like this had happened on Monroe’s block in the time he’s lived there. Still, it wasn’t as if Monroe was oblivious to what was going on not far away.
A soft-spoken man with gold-rimmed glasses, a shaved head and a professorial demeanor, Monroe volunteered with a foundation that helps previously incarcerated Chicagoans try to get on with their lives. He’d visited inmates in California’s infamous Folsom State Prison.
But Monroe says he’d approached violence only “at a safe distance.”
The night Tyjuan was killed, Monroe had invited his neighbor and her guests to hold the birthday party in his side yard. They might have been outside and in the line of fire had it not been a little too cool to go out that evening.
The police told Monroe they found 32 shell casings. There were three bullet holes in the garage door and more in his patio furniture. Another bullet went through the window of the mud room between Monroe’s kitchen and his garage. The immaculately tuckpointed brickwork along one exterior wall of the house is still pocked where bullets ricocheted.
Isaac Monroe shows the the bullet marks in the brick of his Kenwood neighborhood home, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. It was in Monroe’s driveway that 14-year-old Tyjuan Poindexter was gunned down last September. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
The killing also left psychological marks. Monroe recently attended a symposium for block clubs at a college, attending a seminar on post-traumatic stress disorder. As a psychologist ticked through the common symptoms of PTSD — including lost sleep and feeling startled by loud noises — Monroe says he suddenly realized, “So that’s what’s been going on.”
But his close call doesn’t have him thinking about moving. Instead, he has tried to become more involved in his community, getting to know more neighbors since the killing of Tyjuan than in the previous 15 years living there.
Mums planted on the spot where Tyjuan Poindexter died near Isaac Monroe’s Kenwood home. Supplied photo.
“I’m not going to live in fear,” he says. “Everybody points fingers at the police and the politicians. But we have to be more of a community again and not wait for something like this to happen to bring us together. We’re not going to run, and we’re going to make our community safe.”
Monroe says he and other neighbors have started a new community group that hopes to reach out to young people.
And he has kept open the gate that Tyjuan and his friends ran through as they ran from the gunfire that night.
“Had my gate not been open, they probably all would have been gunned down,” he says. “I haven’t shut my gate since. And I don’t think I will close it ever again.”