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Her daughter was killed; mother defends city, hopes for justice

The Rev. Paul Whittington, from St. Margaret of Scotland Church, consoles Vicki McKay after her daughter's funeral Saturday. Simone McKay was a student at Chicago State.

The Rev. Paul Whittington, from St. Margaret of Scotland Church, consoles Vicki McKay after her daughter's funeral Saturday. Simone McKay was a student at Chicago State University. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

A line of mourners reached from Simone McKay’s casket to the back of St. Margaret of Scotland Church at her funeral.

The crowd filled the pews below the parish’s blue cathedral ceiling Saturday and talked about the 26-year-old woman who was taken from them too soon, for reasons no one could understand.

The priest said God had called her home. One woman said that, through her two children, ages 2 and 5, McKay gave more life to the world than someone decided to take last week.

Simone D. “Coco” McKay | Facebook

Officers responding to a call of a person shot just after midnight Oct. 15 found McKay suffering from a gunshot wound to the head on the steps of her home in the 9600 block of South Forest, authorities said. She died at the scene.

Neighbors recalled hearing a single shot, and said it appeared McKay was walking up the steps to her home when she was shot.

“I never thought I would bury my child,” her mother, Vicki McKay, said. “Maybe I could understand if it was a car accident, something random like that. But a malicious killing?”

To those that knew her, Simone McKay was sweet, caring and full of potential. She was studying biology at Chicago State University and planned to go to medical school to become a doctor.

“She was one of the first people I met at school,” fellow CSU senior Kristen Gardner said. “We hit it off, and we were lab partners. She was somebody you could go to and talk to. She was good at giving advice.”

Gardner, president of the Minority Association of Pre-Health Students, was working with McKay to grow the organization on campus before her death. She and other members of the group held a vigil for McKay on Wednesday night.

“Disbelief,” Gardner said of finding out how McKay died. “She had so much going for her. She was motivated. It’s unfortunate she can’t live out her dreams.”

As big of a city as Chicago is, it can often feel small. Another classmate and friend, 27-year-old Lynette Turner, said that when she met McKay at Chicago State, she realized her husband was Simone’s cousin.

“[Chicago] is like that,” Turner said. “We became really good friends.”

Vicki McKay said her daughter will be buried in Chicago. “It’s her hometown,” she said. It was also her community.

Vicki McKay no longer lives in Chicago but will always consider it her home too, she said. She moved to Indianapolis 15 years ago and had encouraged her daughter to do the same.

When her daughter went back to school, Vicki McKay decided she would, too, and they would race to see who could finish first. She hoped her daughter would join her at Purdue University when she graduated from CSU in May.

Simone McKay’s casket is carried from St. Margaret of Scotland Church after her funeral Saturday. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

It wasn’t about Chicago’s violence, a grim distinction the city has earned nationally. Indianapolis is more affordable, Vicki said. Her daughter wouldn’t have had to work so hard, and she had a big yard where her daughter’s kids could play.

Simone McKay’s children were with another family member when she was shot, her mother said. She had lived at the building for nearly a year, which was close to family and blocks from her school. She was a professional makeup artist and worked part time for the Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Early Childhood Education.

Vicki McKay said she defends Chicago to those who talk negatively about the city and point to its violence, yet she became a victim too. She said she’s thankful for “an outpouring a support” from the community and public officials.

“My heart is broken and shattered, but my city is a community,” she said.

A phone call from Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday morning expressing his sympathies meant a lot to her.

“It was parent to parent,” she said of the conversation. “I think any parent can empathize. I appreciated [his] humanity. It made me feel good.”

But it was also the well wishes from administrators at Chicago State, which hosted the funeral reception on campus Saturday. Vicki McKay said she has heard from doctors, neighbors, friends and co-workers of her daughter and believed it showed how much light her daughter brought to the world and how much her death has cast a shadow.

She hopes the person responsible will come forward. If not, she hopes someone with information will instead. Part of being a member of community, she said, was stepping up to help each other.

“The only way these crimes can be stopped is if we talk about it,” she said.

No one was in custody as of Sunday afternoon, according to Chicago Police. Area South investigators can be reached at (312) 747-8273.

Friends of Simone McKay, Sandra Smith (left) and Jennisha Jones, carry a large photo of Simone McKay before her funeral Saturday. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times