Survivors of Violence

In Chicago's war zones, the tragedy extends beyond the kids who die

What toll does violence exact on the children who survive?

By Steve Bogira | Chicago Reader | August 2014

Like many Chicagoans, Latoya Winters was stunned by the fatal shooting of 11-year-old Shamiya Adams at a sleepover in July. Shamiya and several friends were in the bedroom of a home in West Garfield Park. They were circled around a pretend campfire, about to microwave s'mores, when a bullet fired at some boys outside came through a window. It struck Shamiya in the head; she died the next morning.

Winters lives a few blocks away. "I ride past that street all the time, and it's hard to take in," she's telling me on an August morning. "I have a lot of little cousins and nieces. We have sleepovers at my sister's house, we paint nails and watch movies and order food. Who would think that you aren't safe inside a house, doing little girl things?"

But Winters knows that children anywhere in her neighborhood aren't really safe. She's spent most of her life in West and East Garfield Park, neighborhoods besieged by poverty and violence when she was born 26 years ago, and ever since.

"I wanted more for myself than the corners I saw everyday," says Latoya Winters, pictured here at Marillac House. Photo by ANJALI PINTO

She grew up looking over her shoulder. "I feared for my life, and I feared for the life of the kids that I lived with, that I went to school with, all these young kids in the neighborhood I knew. You can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or even in the right place at the right time, and something bad can happen."

We're in an office at Marillac House, the 100-year-old social service agency near Jackson and California, where Winters works with children in summer- and after-school programs. Some of the younger kids in the summer program have had questions about the sleepover shooting, she says. "They want to know, 'Why was that girl killed at that party? She wasn't doing anything wrong.'" Since there isn't a good answer, Winters mainly listens sympathetically.

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