(Sun Times Wire) Two years ago, homeless and out of work, Emoni Atomah went to St. Sabina on the South Side looking for help.
The church enrolled him in a mentoring program, helped him get a place to live on its Auburn Gresham campus and helped him find a job.
But Wednesday night, steps from the parish and only hours after St. Sabina parishioners held their annual peace march in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Atomah, 23, was shot in a church parking lot in the 1200 block of West 78th Place.
Atomah ran from the gunfire but was found unconscious by police officers in the passenger seat of a car he’d flagged down for help with gunshot wounds to his chest and abdomen.
He was pronounced dead at University of Chicago Medical Center shortly after.
On Thursday, church officials say they were stunned by the act of violence so soon after the peace march and on the parish’s campus. The area around the church is considered “neutral ground” and largely respected as a safe space, St. Sabina’s Rev. Michael Pfleger said.
“Yesterday was Dr. King’s birthday, so we had a march for peace in honor of him — and then at 11:30 at night somebody’s shooting someone across the street from the church,” Pfleger said at a news conference.
“This is ridiculous. It’s horrible,” he said.
Elijah Maxey Jr., Atomah’s mentor and coach for two years with the parish’s Strong Futures program, said he was “was stunned and in shock” and cried when he heard the news.
“He had promise,” he said. “It’s so sad that someone took that away from him, from all of us.”
‘Emoni was one of our guys that just soared’
Atomah graduated from Hyde Park High School in 2016 and, like a lot of young men, didn’t know what he wanted to do.
Court records show he was charged with theft in 2015 and criminal trespass to a vehicle in 2017, which was later dropped. But on Oct. 30, he’d filed a motion seeking to have both expunged from his record.
In early 2018, he went to St. Sabina to ask for help, Pfleger said.
After getting Atomah into church housing, they enrolled him in a life mentoring program and they helped him find a series of jobs, including at a car wash at Method Soap factory. Over time, Atomah saved up enough money so he could move into his own one-bedroom apartment on the parish’s campus and began paying rent.
“Emoni was one of our guys that just soared,” Tom Bosley, program manager for Strong Futures, said. “He was a very respectable kid. Humble. He always said he didn’t want a job, he wanted a career.”
Bosley said a lot of the young men they help have had challenges growing up. Some have a more difficult time than others as they make their way through to graduation, but Atomah took the program in stride.
“Every program we put him in, he just never quit,” Bosley said. “He would wake up early, was never late. He made every meeting.”
One job wasn’t enough for Atomah, church staff said. He was always trying to find another in order to string together enough temporary jobs to pay his rent.
Just before he was killed, Atomah learned that he passed his background check and would start a full-time position with a meal delivery company, Maxey said. He was also seeking out programs that would help him attend Olive-Harvey junior college, and he hoped to one day have a career as a welder.
Maxey said the reserved young man was often quiet in group meetings but had a vibrant personality that was admired by those who became his friend.
On the morning of his death, Atomah had met Maxey on the church’s campus for the meeting. He was looking forward to starting his new job.
“He didn’t have any complaints. He said he had his money for rent and he had this job,” Maxey said.
Atomah’s family declined to comment on Thursday night.
On Thursday night, a woman walking into the apartment building across the street from St. Sabina where Atomah had been living said she heard the gunfire erupt about 11:30 p.m. the night before. She noted that the area is usually quiet.
“I was highly surprised it happened in the parking lot,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be used. “The gunshots were so loud, I literally thought it was outside this door.”
The shooting surprised Bosley too, who said a shooting has never occurred on the campus before.
St. Sabina has offered a $5,000 reward for information about the shooting that leads to an arrest.
“We’re going to catch them and whoever did this is going to jail,” Pfleger said.
Article Org: Chicago.suntimes.com