Nanette Luna could not imagine living without her son.
After her only son Victor Felix Jr. was fatally shot in 2016 while on his way to school at John Hancock College Prep, she decided to keep the urn with his ashes nearby.
The wooden urn can be found in her apartment surrounded by some of her favorite things – a bottle of Gatorade, her favorite barbecue sauce, and a bag of Funyuns.
“Even though it’s just a shell, it’s still my baby,” Luna said from her Southwest Side apartment. “And he belongs to the house with me.”
Luna lobbied for an arrest in the homicide of her son. She has spoken publicly about her son’s death, joined other relatives at anti-violence rallies, called Chicago police and messaged Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx, and to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
“How am I going to be able to lobby for my son when my heart and my life have been broken,” Luna said. “But you have to find that strength somewhere because if you’re not your child’s voice and advocate, it’s just going to be swept under the rug.”
Her struggles for justice for her son mirror those of other Chicago parents who are going through grief while seeking accountability. They’ve formed a community – mostly of black and Latino parents – to support each other in the pain of unexpectedly losing a loved one while navigating the criminal justice system.
On Saturday, Elizabeth Ramirez asked a group of parents – who had gathered to commemorate their children for Dia de Los Muertos outside the George N. Leighton Criminal Court building in Little Village – how many did not get justice for their loved ones. Several hands went up.
“None of us got justice,” said Ramirez, founder of Parents for Peace & Justice, a support group for those who are grieving. “The system has failed us in many ways. ”
Over the past four years, more than 500 people have been killed each year in homicides in Chicago, according to an analysis of crime data from the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2020, 775 people were killed in Chicago. This year, at least 670 people have been killed in homicides.
In the year Luna’s son was killed, there were more than 770 homicides and only 29% were exonerated, according to a report from the Police Executive Research Forum. The homicide resolution rate increased in 2019 to 53%, although more than half of cases were closed without arrest.
At the Dia de Los Muertos memorial, photos of homicide victims dotted with white crosses adorned with red hearts. Families also created traditional altars. Oreos, a Spongebob SquarePants figure and a beer surrounded photos of Erick Macedo, who was shot and killed on September 28, while delivering food and driving on Interstate 55 near Wentworth Avenue, said his family.
“We demand justice for all of our children,” Macedo’s mother Eustoquia Alvarez told the crowd gathered on Saturday. “We are asking the Chicago authorities to support families because sometimes there is no support for Latinos.”
The event was hosted by Cecilia Mannion, who founded Families Seeking Justice, and works as a victim advocate for Enlace Chicago. On Monday, she will launch a weekly support group for parents.
“Our main goal is to create a safe space so that families can feel at their place or have the impression of being heard or recognized, because there are other systems which do not allow them to feel this”, a said Jacqueline Herrera, director of violence prevention for Enlace.
“My life is not the same”
For Salvador Aguado, talking to other relatives of homicide victims makes him feel like part of a family that understands him. Her 22-year-old son, Alejandro Aguado, was killed over Memorial Day weekend in 2019 while walking the 606 trail in Logan Square with friends. On Saturday, he placed a framed photo of his son waving a Mexican flag.
The elder Aguado learned that one of the suspects in his son’s homicide was later charged with a different crime, but no one was directly charged with his son’s homicide, he said. declared.
“If my son was a well-known person, I’m pretty sure they would have figured it out,” Aguado said. “But since my son was no one famous, no one knew him, it’s like putting him on the sidewalk.”
He tried calling the detective on the case a few weeks ago, but he hasn’t heard back. Aguado’s son worked in a pizzeria and Burger King to support his then 2-year-old daughter, he said.
“Life goes on and it’s not the same; my life is not the same anymore, ”he said of the aftermath of his son’s homicide. “But I’m trying to make the most of it now.”
“You have to find this strength somewhere”
On the morning of June 1, 2016, Luna’s 16-year-old son said he didn’t want to have breakfast at home because he was planning to eat at school. She could smell the cologne he had put on, suspecting he was on a date with a girl he loved.
What happened next sometimes comes back to Luna in the form of lightning bolts during the nightmares. She remembers getting a phone call, rushing to a hospital, seeing the look on her mother’s face and then seeing her son lying on the stretcher.
She has struggled to get updates on her son’s case and is unsure who is currently in charge of the investigation.
“I need to know if they are still investigating?” ” she said. “Do they have any leads? Will they switch to a cold case? ”
“They made me go through hell”
Catalina Andrade posted flyers about the homicide of her 18-year-old son in Little Village to have them demolished. She hired a lawyer after a tense conversation with a detective and now communicates with a police sergeant. And she spoke at a city council meeting, directly begging the mayor to solve her son’s homicide.
“They put me through hell,” she said. “I felt I didn’t have the answers I needed. I will still fight even if my son is not there. I think I am his voice. I should keep fighting for his justice.
Her son, Miguel Rios, was killed early in the morning of July 18, 2020. She was able to reconstruct that her son was in Little Village visiting his girlfriend. But Rios’ girlfriend heard gunshots while the two were on the phone and alerted her parents, who contacted Andrade, she said.
Rios was found shot dead in the 2300 block of South Washtenaw Street after his car collided with a tree, police said.
Andrade’s son was working with his father that summer and he planned to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“I know that one day I will get answers and I hope they give these criminals what they deserve,” she said. “But who knows how long it’s going to be.” I’m just saying to God, give me the patience to be strong because it doesn’t get any easier.
Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.