CHICAGO >> May 28 was a warm Saturday night midway through the Memorial Day weekend. For many in Chicago, it was a time for barbecues and celebration, the unofficial start of summer in a city known for warm-weather music festivals and baseball games.
But in the West Garfield Park community, a place of few businesses but many weed-filled lots, Memorial Day denoted the start of peak shooting season.
More people are murdered in Chicago than in any other U.S. city, the bloodshed overwhelmingly concentrated near West Garfield Park and a handful of other neighborhoods on the South and West Sides. Some expect the city to eclipse 600 murders in 2016, perhaps more than in New York and Los Angeles combined.
That May evening, Precious Land, 26, dropped off her children — Daveon, Tyreanna and Timia Kirkman, and Jimarrion Williams — a few blocks away to play at the house of a family friend. Then she began the short drive home.
When she was just a block from her doorstep, gunfire sounded. A bullet pierced a side window of Land’s black Pontiac Grand Prix, slicing through her neck and lodging behind her shoulder.
As the evening grew darker, Stacey Turner, 47, Land’s mother, started to worry. Her daughter should have been home by then. More than an hour passed, and Turner got a call to pick up Jimarrion, who had grown restless at the friend’s house.
On her way to retrieve him, Turner saw police cars blocking traffic on Lexington and was forced to take a detour. Someone had been shot, she assumed, a sad but ordinary event here.
A few hours elapsed, the sun set, and Turner still did not know why her daughter was not home.
Then, a woman knocked on her window: Precious had been shot. In a daze, Turner raced down the block. She saw the bullet hole in the window of her daughter’s Pontiac. She sobbed and rushed to the hospital.
There was no prayer circle for Precious Land, no profile of her on the front page of the newspaper, no statements of outrage from City Hall. Land was among 64 people shot in Chicago over Memorial Day weekend, when journalists for The New York Times fanned out across the city to record a steep rise in violence. Six of those victims died. The 58 survivors, including Land, were mostly left to languish in anonymity.
The truth is this: In a city that averages almost two murders a day — 502 this year — a collective numbness has settled in, and there is rarely much attention left over for the thousands of Chicagoans who survive their gunshot wounds.
Turner worries that it is not just her neighbors and the news media who have forgotten about her daughter, but perhaps also the police. As the weeks passed, Turner said, she still did not hear anything about the investigation or speak to a detective.
She wants to help officers find the gunman. She wants the person who pulled the trigger to go to prison. But she worries that Land, one of 3,030 people shot in Chicago this year, has become just another case in an overwhelmed police district where murders have increased about 75 percent this year over 2015.
Finally, two months after the shooting, a detective met one of Land’s relatives by coincidence and called Turner to say they were working on the case.
A police spokesman later told The Times that detectives had left several voicemail messages for Turner in the weeks after the shooting, but had not heard back from her. Turner said she received no such messages. At one point, the police also said they had conducted a “comprehensive interview” with Land, something doctors say would have been impossible since she has been in a coma.
Later, a department spokesman corrected himself and said there had been no interview of Land, but the police had gathered “community intelligence” and were optimistic about solving the case. By early September, Turner said she had still not seen a detective in person.
“I guess they see so many shootings and they all think they’re gang related,” Turner said. “I don’t fault them. But you know, at least come see me so y’all can know that my daughter is not this type of person.”
Turner is hoping for a miracle. She does not go to church anymore — she hasn’t for years — but she believes God is watching her daughter. At Mount Sinai Hospital, Land’s heart stopped twice that first night. Both times, doctors revived her. Turner believes there was a reason.
But since then there has been one bit of bad news after another. First, Turner learned about her daughter’s paralysis. Then doctors said that her daughter had suffered irreversible neurological damage from the interrupted blood flow to her brainstem.
For patients like Land, costs can multiply and continue for years; so can the toll on loved ones.
“It’s much easier to go out and tell somebody their family member died than it is to tell them they have ‘survived’ but are never going to wake up and are never going to be functional again and are forever going to be in the state they’re going to see them,” said Dr. Gary Merlotti, chairman of Mount Sinai’s surgery department. “At least there’s some finality to death, and healing can begin after the grieving process.”
For weeks, doctors at Mount Sinai treated Land. But her condition remained largely unchanged, and they saw little hope for her recovery.
“She is in, if I can be crass, a pre-mortal condition: She will die as a result of this injury,” Merlotti said later in an interview. “The death is going to be a result of infections that come from having had a tube in her throat to breathe, from having to have a tube in her bladder to drain urine, from getting bed sores. Eventually, she’s going to succumb to this injury.”
But when doctors took Turner into a meeting room to deliver that news and ask if she wanted to discontinue life support, she was aghast. Death is God’s decision alone, she said later.
“Oh my God, I went crazy,” Turner said. “I mean, I went nuts. I’m like, ‘Hell no. I am a fighter. My daughter’s a fighter. And we’re going to fight. Her heart is still beating.’
“I told them no, and I walked out.”
Land spent her 27th birthday in the hospital on June 11, with family at her bedside. After a few weeks, she was moved to RML Specialty Hospital, a rehab center.
Turner had kind words to say about the rehab center workers, but she prefers to care for Land herself. She went to classes on how to care for her daughter at home, though she says it was mostly a review from her career as a nursing assistant.
“I cry at night,” Turner said during a visit to her daughter’s bedside. “Nobody knows. I have to keep myself strong for these kids.”
Keeping them occupied all summer had been a challenge. But finally, for the three youngest children, it was the first full day of school.
The preparations were interrupted when the local television newscast playing in the background shifted to a story about a girl shot on the West Side. The child had been attending a memorial for another shooting victim; August would prove to be the city’s deadliest month in about two decades.
“Another 8-year-old kid got shot at a vigil for a 14-year-old,” Turner said as her grandchildren stared at the TV screen. “It’s crazy.”
Turner had little time to dwell on it. “I’m going to get your shoes,” she said as she lined up three new backpacks.
Back when things were normal, just three months earlier, Land would be checking up on homework assignments and helping, on the days she was not at work, to manage the morning chaos. “Usually, the kids will be yelling,” Turner said. “I’ll be screaming and hollering. Precious will be screaming and hollering.”
Turner longed to hear that voice again, or to at least have her daughter back home. But for now, all she could do was wait.