Aftermath of a shooting

One Chicago family's experience in a city scarred by gun crime

One Chicago family's experience in a city scarred by gun crime

By Wilson Dizard

Photos by Carlos Javier Ortiz for Al Jazeera America

Edited by Matt Williams, Christopher Shay, Mark Rykoff

Published on Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A bullet fired through the screen of a front door entered Darius Sept’s gut just after midnight on Saturday, Aug. 30. The 34-year-old staggered and then fell. He lay bleeding between the two-story buildings arranged in a U shape, closed in on three sides.

Neighbors and onlookers pulled out their cellphones, dialing 911 for an ambulance and calling friends to spread the word of what happened to Darius, still awake as the ambulance made its way to him on Racine Avenue, on Chicago’s South Side. Within minutes, texts, phone calls and social media posts cascaded through the community, until almost everyone in his life knew what happened.

One person who received a call in the confused aftermath of the shooting was Darius’ girlfriend of six years, Victoria Mayweathers, a 30-year-old mother of nine. Darius was father to three of them — 3-year-old Addarius; Corderius, not yet 2; and 9-month-old Kaiden.

The couple’s fourth child was on the way, with Victoria four months pregnant. Just prior to the shooting, Darius had been texting her about baby clothes.

“I’ll always love u me and da kids will see u soon my love no matter wat IMA be here forever lord why I love u,” read the last text he sent her before the shooting.

On hearing of his injuries, Victoria hung up on the person who called her, her sister Kwama. Panic took hold of Victoria. Darius hadn’t been at their place, which they moved into just four months earlier, so she ran across a baseball field to where he had been hanging out with friends.

She said a single thought ran through her mind: “I hope he isn’t dead.”

“Nobody knew where he got shot at. They just knew he was bleeding,” she added.

Darius Sept and his children. (Click to enlarge images)

The neighborhood where Darius Sept was shot. (Click to enlarge images)

But by the time Victoria arrived at the apartment complex where the shooting took place, the ambulance had taken Darius to Advocate Christ Medical Center, a few miles away. With a trauma unit, the hospital is the destination for many gunshot victims on Chicago’s South Side.

A man called Keef, a friend of Darius’, drove Victoria to the hospital. Trying to console her, he repeated, “He’s going to be OK,” as they drove along 95th Street, a main South Side thoroughfare that crosses from impoverished neighborhoods in the east to wealthy suburbs in the west.

At about the same time, Darius’ father, Alfred Wicks, 65, a retired sanitation worker, got a phone call from his brother telling him Darius had been shot. Moments later, he received a call from the hospital, telling him to go out to see his son.

Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, he left his home and drove his blue sedan to the hospital, about twenty minutes drive away and known to locals simply as Christ.

“I was not thinking the worst was about to hit me, not thinking any of that. I went there, and I sat there in the waiting room. Not too long later, when the doctors came in, they told me what was going on,” Alfred said.

“They told me they put so much blood in him. They told me they cut him open. They told me he had lost all the blood in him. They told me they had restarted his heart.”

“If I used hindsight, my baby was dead when I walked into that hospital. My baby was dead probably when they called me,” he said. “My baby was dead then.”

By the time Alfred arrived, Victoria was there with Darius’ aunt Linda Lynch, one of his brothers, a younger sister and three small children.

Nurses guided them to a private room to wait for news of his condition. Medics had rushed him to the operating room as soon as he arrived, and now he was in the intensive care unit, unconscious.

“They had us wait in the waiting area for about four hours,” Victoria said.

“And then they came in and said he had lost a lot of blood and he won’t be making it. We didn’t believe it, so we went to talk to him, pray over him, tell him we loved him.”

“They let us in two by two,” she said. She went in with Linda and prayed over Darius’ still body.

“I just told him how much I love him and that I didn’t want him to leave. ‘Don’t leave me and the kids.’”

Darius’ father nervously walked in and out of the hospital. “I couldn’t take it,” he said.

It was about 4 a.m. that Darius finally slipped from life. In a rush of action, nurses and doctors ran to his room. “It was a code blue,” Victoria recalled. “They wouldn’t let us in because they were trying to bring him back. They say his heart went out.”

Thirty minutes later, a doctor entered their room to tell them Darius had died.

“My boy … they had officially pronounced him dead,” Alfred said. “‘My boy had gone to glory. My little boy is gone. My child is gone.’ That’s what went through my head. ‘Somebody took my child from me.’”

“The man who did it ruined two lives, his and he took my child. He ruined his family’s life and my family’s life and countless other families’ lives he ruined.”

Darius was as a wiry fellow, 5 feet 8 and weighing about 140 pounds, with brown eyes and black hair. He had four tattoos: “Rita” on his left forearm, “Ashanti” on his right forearm, “Klea” on his neck and “Mt. Vernon” on his abdomen — it was near this inked reminder of the neighborhood where he grew up that the bullet entered that ended his life.

Details of his tattoos were included in a report from the Illinois Department of Corrections. He spent seven years in state prison after a 2003 conviction on attempted murder charges, when he brandished and fired a gun, according to court documents. Released in 2010, he was arrested again in 2013 for possession of more than an ounce of marijuana, records show.

Graffiti is scrawled on a sign hailing new construction in a West Side neighborhood. (Click to enlarge images)

Relatives were reluctant to talk too much about what Darius did for a living or his time in jail. Victoria said she didn’t know if he had a record.

He was an aspiring rap musician who recorded music with his friends. Victoria said she had hopes of Darius getting a straight job, perhaps even leaving the city with him and their children.

They never got the chance.

With the news of Darius’ death beginning to sink in, Victoria left the hospital sobbing, she recalled. “I couldn’t believe it. I ran, and I kept running, and I was crying. I couldn’t do nothing else. I ran. Got on the elevator. I ran downstairs and left out the hospital.”

Alfred drove her home. Before he dropped her off, as the sun rose over 3 million Chicagoans on Labor Day weekend, the two stopped at the apartment complex where Darius was shot. Residents told Victoria that Darius and the man who shot him were arguing and the shooter fired at close range.

“It was about nothing. Who can beat up who, that type of stuff. ‘I ain’t scared of you. I’ll pop you.’ That sort of stuff,’” she said.

On the Saturday after Darius’ death, a stream of friends and relatives (she said she’s the youngest of 12 children) went to Victoria’s house to console her and help with the kids. Her mother, Teresa, who lost her husband, Larry, a few months before, did as much as she could to help shoulder the load of chores.

“There was my mom, my four sisters, my nephew, my niece, my cousin and her baby’s daddy,” Victoria said. “We had a houseful. We had about seven children that were all in the house with mine.”

“They tried to make me smile and things like that. They said little jokes and little things what happened in the past. You know, things he used to do. How he was with the kids and stuff like that.”

Victoria and others who knew Darius described him as a devoted father, helping raise six children Victoria had from a previous relationship — Kierra, 14; Dasha, 13; Kiorionia, 11; Imani, 10; MaKilleyon, 9; and Dareon, 5 — loving them as his own, Victoria said. Darius also cared for two other children of his, each with other partners.

For the 11 children Darius left behind, the reality of their father’s absence hasn’t sunk in yet.

“It’s hard because I don’t want them to see me down. So we trying to basically do our normal, but it’s hard. I explained it to them, but my son still asks for him,” Victoria said.

For the newest addition to his family, still growing in her womb, they hadn’t even thought of a name yet.

“We were just going to let it flow like we’re used to,” she said. “He always comes up with the names.”

As for her future, Victoria is now determined to get out of Chicago, leaving behind not just the violence but also the memories of Darius that linger where she lives.

“I can’t stay out here. It don’t feel right. It don’t even feel right being in this house. When I walk out of the house, all I see is him walking the kids to school,” she said.

“He was a big help to me. The only help I had. The only help I ever had.”

A mural in the far south side of Chicago. (Click to enlarge images)

Alfred spent the day after his son’s death at his parents’ house on 107th Street. The shooting happened closer to 115th.

The entire neighborhood — anyone who had been awake, at least — appeared to already know what happened. Some found out through Facebook, where Darius had posted dozens of pictures of himself doting on his young children.

Unable to sleep, Alfred sat in the two-story house his parents shared with two of Darius’ brothers, Marcus, 22, and Jason, 20. The siblings stayed in their own rooms.

Jason, despite a strained relationship with Alfred, gave him a hug when he walked in the door.

Alfred’s father, Sunshine Wicks, 94, spent some of the day visiting his wife, who was in the hospital with a broken hip. He told her what happened to her grandson before returning home to sit with his son.

Sunshine, a veteran of World War II, had been assigned to serve in the ground invasion of Japan that never happened. He wears his veteran’s cap.

Alfred served in Vietnam and similarly wears headgear for veterans of that war.

To push back tears, Alfred watched television to numb his mind. “I sat there 12, 14, 15, 16 hours. I sat there in the kitchen, looking at the TV, couldn’t go to sleep. Ah, God, didn’t want to think about it because I couldn’t hold it,” he explained.

“We’re brought up not to show emotion. You show emotion, you’re weak. So I tried not to show emotion. I sat there until I got up and went home.”

Alfred can’t remember much from that day. All he can recall is seeing a movie involving the comic book character the Hulk.

“It came up every now and then, and I tried to think something else. Tried to sleep, couldn’t sleep. I wouldn’t go view the body, so the last time I saw him, that’s the way I remember him,” he said.

“I will not view the body, whenever it shows up.”

An abandoned South Side storefront. (Click to enlarge images)

Darius’ death also affected others in the community who, although not blood brothers, felt they helped raise him.

Larry “Uncle Rube” Mitchell, 53, now in construction, was his baseball coach when Darius played on the Jackie Robinson West Little League team when he was about 10 years old. The all-African-American team is a source of pride for Chicago’s South Side, with many players hailing from Englewood, one of the area’s most violent neighborhoods.

“Darius could play second base, outfield. He could play anywhere you’d want to put him,” Larry said. “That was my nephew. I raised that guy. His daddy, Alfred, he’s my best friend. Alfred’s daddy raised me.

“We all family out here.”

That family gathered two weeks later for Darius’ funeral, which Alfred said hundreds of people attended. A Facebook page, “Victoria Sept (Victoria loves Darius Sept),” remains in his honor. No arrest has yet been made in relation to the shooting.

Darius was one of three who died violent deaths in Chicago that Labor Day weekend. Murders in the city, although down, have claimed more than 340 people so far this year.

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