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Community honors anti-violence activist fatally shot in West Pullman

Family, friends and community members held photos of LaNiyah Murphy as they shared a story of a beautiful, intelligent young woman who had overcome being shot and wounded in 2018.

Teyonna Lofton, right, hugs Ambrosia Vasser, left, friends of activist LaNiyah Murphy, during a press conference at Ark of Saint Sabina in the Gresham neighborhood, where friends and family called for justice for Murphy, who was fatally shot in West Pullman on Jan. 4.
Teyonna Lofton (right) hugs Ambrosia Vasser (left) at Ark of Saint Sabina in the Gresham neighborhood, where friends and family called for justice for LaNiyah Murphy, who was fatally shot in West Pullman on Tuesday Jan. 4.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Family and friends gathered Friday to remember slain anti-violence activist LaNiyah Murphy and demand that more be done to find her killer.

“She dedicated her life and time to not being afraid to tell others of her journey and the importance of ending gun violence,” said Murphy’s aunt, Danita Huff. “She inspired many other girls to do the same.”

Huff joined dozens of people at The Ark of St. Sabina, 7800 S. Racine Ave., where they also released balloons in Murphy’s honor.

Murphy, fatally shot in West Pullman Tuesday, was recalled as a beautiful, intelligent young woman — and someone who had been a victim once before, surviving a gunshot wound to the head in 2018.

Huff said Murphy wanted everyone to imagine that building a safer community was possible.

Murphy’s former 11th grade composition teacher, Monica Connor, said Murphy was “easily the smartest person in the room” and excelled at academics. She was also “genuinely kind and supportive.”

Murphy, 20, was a freshman majoring in sociology at Governors State University and was involved in the university’s Social Justice Initiative. Her activism was also seen in her involvement with St. Sabina’s anti-violence leadership group, BRAVE, where she mentored others.

A picture of LaNiyah Murphy was displayed at the Ark of Saint Sabina in the Gresham neighborhood at a memorial for Murphy, who was shot and killed on Tuesday, In 2018, Murphy survived a shot to the head and became outspoken about gun violence. Murphy was fatally shot Jan. 4.
A picture of LaNiyah Murphy was displayed Friday at the Ark of Saint Sabina in the Gresham neighborhood at a memorial for Murphy, who was shot and killed on Tuesday. In 2018, Murphy survived a shot to the head and became outspoken about gun violence.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

There have been no arrests made in Murphy’s case. In a statement, a Chicago Police Department spokesman confirmed no one is in custody but said detectives are continuing to investigate.

The lack of an arrest has frustrated some.

Pam Bosley, who overseas the BRAVE youth program, called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPD Supt. David Brown to put together a task force to find Murphy’s killer.

“Please treat LaNiyah’s shooting the way you treated the Hyde Park shootings and the downtown shootings,” said Bosley.

A friend of Murphy’s and fellow BRAVE leader, Teyonna Lofton, described Murphy as strong — especially right after Lofton herself also was shot.

“She talked me through it,” said Lofton. “She drove me to the hospital. LaNiyah was there to keep pressure on my arm.”

But Lofton also had a message for political leaders Friday.

“This is not LaNiyah’s first time going through this,” Lofton said, her voice raised passionately. “Alderman, you have failed her. Mayor, you have failed her. Governor, you have failed her. Police, you have failed her. How many of us have to die, how many of us have to get shot, before you stand up and make a change?”

There were 820 homicides in Chicago in 2021, according to data from the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

That makes it the deadliest year since the mid-1990s. Just seven days into the new year, 11 people have been reported killed in Chicago.

Our babies are dying,” said Connor, her voice shaking. “Black people are dying. And in many cases it’s us who are killing us.”

Rev. Michael Pfleger spoke directly to the community Friday, calling on youth to step up.

“We need you more than ever to be the leaders of our society,” he said. “Adults have failed you.”

Then, he spoke directly to the killer: “This is no video game. This is no social media. What you’re doing is murder. You’re taking lives, you’re traumatizing families. You’re destroying our future. Stop.”

Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.