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Killed while playing outside, 9-year-old Janari Ricks had plans to ‘rebuild the community,’ mom says

“He was in the house all day yesterday, he didn’t come out until 5,” his mother said with tears in her eyes. “And he came out to play with his friends and my baby never been able to make it back home.”

Janari Ricks was entering fourth grade at Ruben Salazar Elementary School, his mother, Jalisa Ford (left) said.
Janari Ricks was entering fourth grade at Ruben Salazar Elementary School, his mother, Jalisa Ford (left) said.
Provided

Janari Ricks was known to have a football in one hand and a basketball in the other, his family and friends said.

The 9-year-old had aspirations to be a professional basketball player and called himself “Young Curry,” a nod to his favorite basketball player, Stephen Curry.

But Janari was always incredibly intelligent, his mother, Jalisa Ford, said. He was a straight-A, “honor-roll” student entering fourth grade at Ruben Salazar Elementary School.

So even if becoming a professional athlete didn’t work out, Janari had a backup plan.

Janari Ricks.
Janari Ricks.
Provided

“If he wasn’t able to pursue his dreams of becoming an athlete he wanted to do construction,” Ford said. “He wanted to help rebuild the community, rebuild something that the kids can enjoy later down the line.

“It’s gone, it’s taken away.”

Authorities said Janari was playing with friends behind the former Cabrini Green public housing complex in the 900 block of North Cambridge around 6 p.m. Friday when a gunman opened fire, fatally striking the boy in the chest. Chicago police said the boy was an unintended target.

Ford said she was in the bathroom when she heard banging on the door.

“They told me my son was shot, and I go to the scene and my son is lying there hopeless, gone,” she said a day after the Near North Side attack.

Janari’s father, Raymond Ricks, said he had just boarded a plane to Atlanta when he heard the news.

“I had to stop the plane,” Raymond said.

The boy was taken to Lurie Children’s Hospital, where he was pronounced dead an hour later.

On Saturday, a memorial grew along the same block where the 9-year-old grew up. Neighbors and friends brought two basketballs, a football and stuffed animals. Some lit candles in honor of the slain boy; others tied balloons on a metal fence. Janari’s beloved hoverboard that he got for his last birthday was also placed on the ground in front of the memorial.

The boy’s father comforted Ford with a hug from behind as she cried, “Why’d he have to go? My baby.”

“I’m just numb,” Raymond Ricks said. “He’s just a kid, just a genius kid. He was going to do so much.”

Ford said the boy had been inside most of the day before the shooting.

“He didn’t come out until 5,” she said in tears. “And he came out to play with his friends and my baby never been able to make it back home... He was very, very loved by so many people, everyone knew him, everyone.

“It hurts, it hurts... But I want justice,” Ford said.

Police didn’t have any updates on the investigation Saturday. No one was in custody.

Janari was the second child shot in as many days in Chicago, and one of at least 58 minors shot across the city during a violent July, according to Sun-Times records. Police reported 105 murders during the month along with 406 shooting incidents, both drastic increases over the same period last year.

Chicago police investigate the scene where a 9-year-old boy was shot and killed Friday in the 900 block of North Cambridge.
Chicago police investigate the scene where a 9-year-old boy was shot and killed Friday in the 900 block of North Cambridge.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot called gun violence “every bit a public health crisis as COVID-19” while addressing Janari’s killing in a series of tweets.

“How many more families must be torn apart? How many more communities need to be traumatized? How many more children have to die? We’ve had to write these words far too many times just this summer alone,” Lightfoot said.

“It’s well past time that we as a nation begin aggressively treating it through wraparound services, mental health supports and street outreach interventions, support for our community police officers, and — yes — federal gun control to keep firearms from falling into the wrong hands.”