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Mom: Years after gang boss’ murder, ‘my hurt is no less than another mother’s’

Rudy Rangel Jr.'s bodyguard drove him in this GMC Yukon to a West Side barbershop, parking on the sidewalk — where the sport-utility vehicle remained after the Latin Kings street gang leader was gunned down. | Cook County state's attorney's office

It’s now nearly 15 years since her son Rudy Rangel Jr. was gunned down while getting a haircut on the West Side, but Mary Rangel says, “The longer I don’t see him, the more it hurts.”

You don’t usually hear from the parents of a high-profile gang leader. But with federal authorities now targeting a notorious reputed Chicago gang boss in the Latin Kings leader’s killing, Mary Rangel spoke out in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

“My daughter used to tell me, ‘Mom, I lost my brother, but I lost you too,’ ” Mary Rangel says. “It was like I was there but I wasn’t there. It’s like I missed out on so much because I was so withdrawn in myself because of the pain of having to bury my son. You know, birthdays — I was there physically, you know, but not mentally. And that was for a couple long years. And I finally, you know, little by little, came back to being a normal person.”

Rudy Rangel Jr. | Cook County state’s attorney’s office

She says it took more than seven years for her to again “become a normal person.”

Rudy Rangel — known as “Kato” — was getting his hair cut inside a trailer that served as a barbershop at 3010 W. Roosevelt Rd. when he was killed on June 4, 2003.

According to police and court records, it was around 8:20 p.m. Rangel, 30, had a bodyguard and a guy he met in prison with him. And game 1 of the NBA Finals was playing on the TV — the San Antonio Spurs vs. the New Jersey Nets. Two other men sat outside on the trailer steps, awaiting their turn in the barber chair.

Another man walked up past the two men and opened fire, killing Rangel and wounding his bodyguard and the barber, records show.

A detective’s sketch of the Rudy Rangel Jr. murder scene. | Cook County state’s attorney’s office

The Cook County state’s attorney’s office charged four men in Rangel’s death: Donell “Squeaky” Simmons, identified by the police as the shooter, and three rival gang members prosecutors said hired Simmons to kill the Latin Kings boss.

Simmons and two of the others were convicted and sent to prison.

The fourth — Labar “Bro Man” Spann, identified by authorities as a leader of the brutal Four Corner Hustlers street gang — was acquitted by a Cook County judge in July 2008.

Labar “Bro Man” Spann is accused in a wide-ranging federal conspiracy case of participating in six slayings, including the June 2003 murder of Latin Kings gangster Rudy “Kato” Rangel Jr. whose death inspired the track “A ‘Yo Kato” by rapper DMX. | 2010 mug shot

But now Spann, 39, again faces a reckoning in court for Rudy Rangel’s killing. Last September, he and 10 other reputed members of the Four Corner Hustlers were indicted by a federal grand jury in a sweeping racketeering conspiracy case that prosecutors say included six murders between 2000 and 2003 — among those the shooting of Rangel. If convicted, Spann, accused of taking part in all six killings, could face the death penalty.

Mary Rangel, 61, was on vacation in Florida when the indictment was announced last year. Prosecutors didn’t let her know Spann again was going to be tried in her son’s killing, Rangel says. Instead, she heard the news from friends.

“No phone call, no explanation,” she says. “No nothing about what’s going on. And I don’t think it’s fair. I mean, I’m a human being. Maybe they look upon me — because of what my son was or did in his life, you know — I don’t deserve to know.”

Simmons, the shooter, had been arrested for aggravated discharge of a firearm and sentenced to four years in prison. But, after less than a year behind bars, he got out in February 2003. Less than four months later, testimony showed, he killed Rangel. In August 2008, a judge sentenced Simmons to 47 years in prison.

Cook County prosecutors said Spann, Martise Nunnery and Marcus Ware were behind the killing, that they wanted to take and sell the flashy jewelry Rangel often wore. They estimated his chain, pendant and watch were worth $350,000.

They said the three men recruited Simmons, promising him $30,000 to kill him. He told detectives he never got paid.

Nunnery got 36 years in prison. Ware took a plea deal and got 11 years, with credit for more than 4½ years of time served in the Cook County Jail while awaiting trial.

Mary Rangel doesn’t fool herself about what her son did as a leader of the Latin Kings. After being charged in 1993 with attempted murder, aggravated battery, aggravated battery with a firearm and armed violence, Rudy Rangel was sentenced to seven years in prison, records show.

“I used to beg him, ‘Stop doing what you do,” his mother says.

But Mary Rangel says her son’s gang dealings don’t lessen the pain of her grief or make it any less valid than that of any other parent who has lost a child.

“We’re talking about murder,” she says. “Someone’s life — my son’s life. You know, maybe in society’s eyes, they feel, well, because he was who he was, so what if he’s dead?”

But she says, “He’s my son. So whether our children are good or bad, they’re our children. So me mourning my son is no less than another mother mourning their son that maybe was a good kid or wasn’t a good kid.

“It’s a bad thing that these innocent kids, or people that have nothing to do with gangs or drugs, are getting killed. But my hurt is no less than another mother’s.”

Sharon Opryszek, who has since left the state’s attorney’s office, prosecuted all four of the men who were charged in Rudy Rangel’s killing. She won’t comment, saying, “I’m potentially a witness in that federal case.”

Mary Rangel was pleased with Opryszek’s work, even though the prosecutor previously had tried to make a case against her son.

“When I met Sharon Opryszek — the state’s attorney, very nice person — she goes, ‘You know, I’m going to tell you something, don’t get offended.’ And she says, ‘You know, Mary, I’ve been watching your son for the last five years.’ And she says, ‘I couldn’t get — excuse my language — s–t on him.’ She goes, ‘He’s something.’

“It’s weird, but she says, ‘You know, since I couldn’t — don’t take it the wrong way — since I couldn’t prosecute him, I’m going to damn sure prosecute the people that took him away.’ ”

Mary Rangel says she liked that. Still, she doesn’t buy the notion that he was killed for the jewelry he was known to wear. She saw him hours before he was killed and says the only jewelry he was wearing was a gold-and-onyx “eternal love” bracelet that she bought him.

Hair products and clippers inside the West Side barbershop where Rudy Rangel Jr. was killed. | Cook County state’s attorney’s office

After Rudy Rangel died, his widow Valerie took up with Margarito Flores — who with his twin brother Pedro Flores once were the biggest drug dealers in Chicago. That was until authorities got them to help build their case against the biggest dealer of them all, Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. The Flores twins have been in protective custody since they flipped on Guzman in 2008.

Rudy Rangel’s widow is the daughter of a former Chicago cop — he was the one who identified Rangel’s body at the morgue, records show.

Joseph Antonio Cartagena — aka the rapper Fat Joe. | Getty Images

She has been in protective custody since the Flores twins agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Under a pen name, she co-authored a book last year, “Cartel Wives,” that described how the twins worked their way up in El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel.

Rudy Rangel had his own record label, Dinero Records, and hung with hip-hop heavyweights Fat Joe and DMX, who recorded a tribute to him called “A’Yo Kato” after his death.

In a radio interview in August 2017, Fat Joe called him “a beautiful dude.”

“We know a million gangsters,” the rapper said. “A million killers. This guy was different.”

When Rudy Rangel died, the Cook County medical examiner’s office counted 14 tattoos of his body. Three were dedicated to his wife, including one on his chest that said: “Destined Forever My Queen Valerie.”

And on his right shoulder, he had “Mary” tattooed, along with two roses and the words “Mom” and “Love.”

On his right shoulder, Rudy Rangel Jr. had “Mary” tattooed, along with two roses and the words “Mom” and “Love.” | Cook County state’s attorney’s office

Before his death, Mary Rangel says her son would go out of his way to tell her how much he loved her.

“For over a month — he always said he loved me — but it was like it was just so extra,” she says. “It was like he knew something was coming.”

Though Valerie and Rudy Rangel were married, another woman was the mother of his children, and they lived near Mary Rangel and her husband on the Southwest Side.

Two months after he was killed, Mary Rangel and her husband moved from their home near the Chicago Housing Authority’s since-demolished LeClaire Courts public housing project to the southwest suburbs.

“Not for my sake,” she says, “but for my grandkids. I wanted to get them out of there.”

Today, Rudy Rangel’s children live a block away, and Mary Rangel says she sees them often.

“I brought them out here so they could have a better life, to give them a chance that I didn’t have, you know, [their] dad didn’t have,” Mary Rangel says. “That’s, to me, my biggest achievement.

“I’m so proud that they’re good kids.”

Mary Rangel’s grandkids live away from the city’s violence, but another relative was shot to death last month on the Southwest Side, in the 5900 block of South Springfield. Rangel says she visited the victim’s mother hours after the shooting “because I understand how she feels.

“The day that [Rudy] died, they said that my eyes were, you know, dead,” she says. “You know, there’s no…nothing. And I started looking around because I’ve been to quite a few wakes. And I look at the mothers, and I know what they mean now. I can see it. There’s something that just dies. It does.”

A crime-scene marker covers a spent shell casing near where Rudy Rangel Jr. was killed. | Cook County state’s attorney’s office