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Gun Violence Robs Chicago Mother Of 4th Child

Feb 5, 2013
Originally published on February 5, 2013 3:40 pm

The gun violence that scars some Chicago neighborhoods has been a plague for one woman. Shirley Chambers first lost a child to gunfire in the mid 1990s. In 2000, a daughter and a son were shot to death just months apart. On Monday, Chambers buried her last child.

Nearly 500 people filled the pews, the choir lofts and hallways of St. Luke Church of God in Christ for the funeral of 33-year-old Ronnie Chambers, an aspiring music producer who died Jan. 26.

When his mother walked up to the casket, she collapsed. Family helped her back to her seat, where she listened as many, including Willie Fleming, stepped forward to eulogize her son.

"He embodied what everybody in this room should be doing: He reached back to help someone else," Fleming said.

Shirley Chambers, 54, works at a popular Chicago hot dog chain. She raised her children in the Cabrini-Green public housing high-rises which have since been torn down. Her son Carlos was 18 when he was shot by a classmate outside school in 1995. Her daughter LaToya was 15 when she was shot in a Cabrini-Green lobby more than a decade ago.

"A little guy was trying to shoot someone else and he shot LaToya, and then a couple of months later Jerome was murdered," Chambers said.

Jerome was 23.

Last December, Ronnie Chambers, whose nickname was Scooby, appeared on Ricki Lake's television talk show. He said he was a former gang member and the murders of his three siblings made him decide to change his life.

"That right there, you know, me in and out of jail, let me know I had to do something different," Chambers said.

Chambers began mentoring young men interested in rapping, working to help them stay away from gangs. His mother, who had been fearful for her son, was ecstatic about his change and his TV debut.

"I started screaming, 'There goes my baby, there goes my baby,' " Chambers said. "I was excited to see him come out there. He looked so sweet, and I was like, 'Ooh, that boy is so smart.' "

A month later, her son was dead — shot in the head while he sat in a car on the city's West Side after returning from an event for the young rapper and gang member who appeared with him on the show.

Chicago saw a flurry of gun-related violence last month, with more than 40 homicides. Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy says his officers are seizing plenty of firearms. He and Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently announced the reassignment of 200 police officers to patrol work.

While President Obama has been traveling across the country pushing for gun-related changes, Shirley Chambers said she just wants a coordinated effort.

"It's too much out of control now. They've got to get stiffer penalties for these guys that go out and murder people for no reason. The police can't do it by themselves. The president can't do it by himself. The mayor can't do it by himself. We've got to do it all together. We've all got to work together," she said.

Police have made no arrests in her son's murder case, and Chambers said she can't break down because she's lost four children. She said she needs to speak out so no parent will have to experience what she has.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

It's hard to imagine anything more difficult than attending your own child's funeral. Yesterday, Shirley Chambers did that for the fourth time.

INSKEEP: In the mid-1990s, the Chicago woman lost a child to gunfire. A few years later in 2000, a daughter and a son were shot to death months apart.

MONTAGNE: Yesterday, Chambers buried her last surviving child. The funeral came amid a nationwide debate over gun violence, as we'll hear in this part of the program.

Our coverage begins with NPR's Cheryl Corley.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) What a friend we have in Jesus...

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Nearly 500 people filled the pews, the choir lofts and hallways of St. Luke Church of God in Christ for 33-year-old Ronnie Chambers' funeral. The aspiring music producer died January 26th. When Shirley Chambers walked up to the casket to look down on her son, she collapsed. Family helped her back to her seat where she listened as many - including Willie Fleming - stepped forward to eulogize her son.

WILLIE FLEMING: He embodied what everybody in this room should be doing. He reached back to help someone else.

CORLEY: Fifty-four-year-old Shirley Chambers works at a popular Chicago hotdog chain. She raised her children in the Cabrini Green public housing hi-rises, which have since been torn down. Her son Carlos was 18 when he was shot by a classmate outside of school in 1995. Her daughter LaToya was 15 when she was shot in a Cabrini Green lobby more than a decade ago.

SHIRLEY CHAMBERS: And then a little guy was trying to shoot someone else, then he shot LaToya. And then a couple of months later, Jerome was murdered.

CORLEY: Jerome was 23.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE RICKI LAKE SHOW")

RICKI LAKE: Please welcome Scooby.

CORLEY: Last December, Ronnie Chambers, whose nickname was Scooby, appeared on the Ricki Lake talk show. He said he was a former gang member, and the murders of his three siblings made him decide to change his life.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE RICKI LAKE SHOW")

RONNIE CHAMBERS: That right there, you know, me in and out of jail, that let me know I had to do something different.

CORLEY: Chambers began mentoring young men interested in rapping, working to help them stay away from gangs. His mother, who had been fearful for her son, was ecstatic about his change and his TV debut.

CHAMBERS: And I started screaming, there goes my baby. There goes my baby. I was excited to see him come out there. He looked so sweet and just, like, ooh, that boy's so smart.

CORLEY: A month later, her son would be dead, shot in the head while he sat in a car on the city's West Side, returning from an event for the young rapper and gang member who appeared with him on the television show.

CHAMBERS: It's ridiculous. It's happening too much - every single day.

CORLEY: Chicago saw a flurry of gang-related violence in January, with more than 40 homicides. In addition to Chambers, the death of 15-year-old high school student Haidya Pendleton also made news headlines.

Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy says his officers are seizing plenty of firearms. He and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also recently announced the reassignment of 200 police officers to patrol work. The president is now traveling the country, pushing for gun-related reforms. Shirley Chambers says she just wants a coordinated effort.

CHAMBERS: It's too much out of control now. They've got to get stiffer penalties for these guys that go out here and murder people for no reason. The police can't do it by themselves. The president can't do it by himself. The mayor cannot do it by himself. We've got to do it all together. We all we have to work together.

CORLEY: Police have made no arrests in the Ronnie Chambers case, and Shirley Chambers says she can't break down because she's lost four children. She says she needs to speak out so no parent will have to experience what she has.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.