CHICAGO — Antonio Smith liked to tease girls and show off his dance moves in front of his buddies. He loved playing football. Pretty much like any 9-year-old boy.
Wednesday afternoon, Antonio was found in the backyard of a house in the Grand Crossing neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, shot in the chest, hands, and arms. He died an hour later.
“He just didn’t make it. He just didn’t make it,” said Antonio’s mother, Brandi Murry. “I’m praying for the whole city right now. I don’t want no other parent to ever go through this. I feel your pain. It’s bad and it hurts so much.”
She and other relatives couldn’t explain why anyone would want to gun down the boy, who was going to be a fourth-grader this fall.
“He liked to joke, he liked to play,” Murray said outside her home today. “I don’t understand why anybody would do this.”
“He was just a child, just a baby,” added a cousin, Kenya Eggleston. “Still had a whole life ahead of him. And why? Just a child. When is it going to stop?”
“I want whoever did this to turn himself in because he is an innocent baby,” said another cousin, Rasheda Eggleston. “He didn’t deserve it.”
No arrests had been reported Thursday morning, and no description of the gunman was released.
Antonio was shot around 4 p.m. Wednesday in the 1200 block of East 71st Street, a few blocks from where he had lived with his mother, older brother, and older sister, according to police and relatives. His body was found in a small backyard near train tracks, on a block lined with three-flats and single-story yellow brick ranch homes.
Police said a dispute between two factions of the Gangster Disciples gang has recently flared in the neighborhood, but they don’t believe Antonio had any gang ties and said he came from a good family that recently moved into the area.
Antonio’s mother said her son had begun pee wee football a few weeks ago in the afternoons.
“He was the type to make friends with everybody,” Murry said. “They all playing together. That was the type of kid he was.”
Antonio had appeared on a float in the annual Bud Billiken parade, an event that was marred this year by gunfire near the route.
He liked the rapper Chris Brown and loved to dance. “He always liked to give a show,” Murry said. “At dance contests, birthday parties, he loved to dance. I have video of him dancing in the house.”
Antonio had spent most of his days this summer either in his house, his stepfather’s house, or at his grandmother’s, Murry said.
On his free time she tried to make sure he read, Murry said. He was good at reading and, although “a little bit iffy” in math, he earned mostly As and Bs school. He was supposed to start the fourth grade at Hinton Elementary after Labor Day.
“I tried to keep him in something,” Murry said. “He had a good summer.
“I don’t think anybody can process losing a child,” she said.
Though he was new to the neighborhood, Antonio left an impression on 16-year-old Lanayiah Clayton. She frequently visits her aunt at the boy’s apartment complex and often spent time in a small park with Antonio and other neighbors to play sports and goof off. Antonio called her “my girlfriend.”
Marrieal Winchester, 13, last saw Antonio hours before he was killed. She bought him a sandwich, fruit cup, and milk from a lunch truck that often passes through the complex.
Her mother, Chrishawda Wilcox, remembered Antonio as “energetic” and “a little wild and crazy.” Antonio liked to dance in front of everyone to hip-hop beats, she said.
Wilcox got teary-eyed and flailed her arms in disgust when she learned the boy died. “I’m just going to put them in my prayers,” Wilcox said of Antonio’s family. “Everybody’s killing each other.”
She said gunshots are a familar sound around her complex in Grand Crossing.
Her daughter Marrieal pointed toward a playground at the edge of the park. It’s a short walk from her apartment but she stays away. “Too much shooting over here,” she explained.
Wilcox said Antonio’s death is a grim reminder of the dangers her five children face. “I can’t even grasp no words to tell you how I’d feel. … I’m gonna die,” she said. “I love (every) one of my kids. … This is a mother’s fear.”
Photo: David D’Agastino via Flickr
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