The McDonald’s Happy Meal Yvette James bought for her grandson Saturday as a reward for getting a haircut still sits on the stove in their Austin home.
It’s a constant reminder that her 3-year-old grandson, Mekhi James, won’t be coming back home.
Mekhi was shot and killed Saturday, but James simply can’t bring herself to throw the meal away.
“The person who shot my grandson, please put it in your heart and turn yourself in,” James said. “Go to the police and say, ‘I’m the one that shot the little baby, I’ve come to turn myself in.’ Please do it for that little boy.”
She and other relatives of Mekhi spoke in front of the family home Wednesday, where an increased reward was announced for information leading to his killer.
“We are asking if anybody knows anything — and we really do believe you do — about the whereabouts of this killer, speak now, please speak up,” said Rev. Ira Acree of the Greater St. John Baptist Church, who is leading efforts around the reward. “If you break the silence, we can end the violence.”
The reward, now at $13,000, is several thousand dollars more than what what it was three days ago. The family also launched a GoFundMe page to help cover funeral and memorial arrangements.
The boy’s mother, Myesha James, declined to speak with the press.
Mekhi was the youngest shooting victim over the weekend that left 104 injured and 15 dead — 12 of which were minors. On Saturday evening, Mekhi was heading home after getting a haircut with his stepfather when someone opened fire into their car. The stepfather is believed to have been the intended target.
The stepfather rushed Mekhi to West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park, where he was pronounced dead.
The stepfather, who declined to give his name, pulled his hoodie over his eyes tightly Wednesday afternoon before reciting a poem he wrote dedicated to Mekhi. Halfway through reading, his voice cracked and he shed a few tears.
“He was going to get a haircut there is no reason he shouldn’t have made it home, to come back to say, ‘Mommy, do you like my haircut?’” Mekhi’s aunt Christal Allen said. “It never happened, she is still waiting on that.”
Allen said their family is in desperate need of closure. Mekhi’s four siblings and young cousins are left wondering where he is. Still, the conversation about death is something they are becoming accustomed to since he wasn’t the first to die of gun violence in their family.
Still, Allen said, they are seeking answers that neither she nor her sister can give them at this moment.
“They shooting everywhere we have a safe place to take our children,” Allen said. “The streets talk, I’m praying they talk enough to have evidence to give to all of us — the police, the family, the reporters — to just give us some type of closure.”
Allen said the entire family is struggling to cope with the loss of Mekhi and they have spent many “sleepless nights.”
Destinie Giles, Mekhi’s godmother, had a message for the person who took the young boy’s life.
“Y’all broke a bond that can never be mended back together, you broke a family,” Giles said about the boy’s mother. “We just ordered our kids’ summer clothes and [she’s] asking me what is she supposed to do with my godson’s clothes? Y’all broke her.”
Giles said the shooter robbed Mekhi of what may have been a promising future.
“You took a life away from a 3-year-old. We don’t know if he was going to be our doctor, our lawyer, our judge, our football player, our quarterback, we don’t know because you took it away from us,” Giles said with her voice trembling. “And I hope your family [feels] the same pain we feel.”
Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.