Young Man with Special Needs Shot, Killed in Euclid Park on Memorial Day

The cop who came to Rashawnda Rice’s house on Memorial Day didn’t get very far.

“He just asked, is this JoJo’s house?” the 19-year-old college student recalled on Tuesday.

She looked out the front door and saw red tape around an area of Euclid Park. Then she took off running. She knew her older brother, Jervon Morris — about three months shy of 21 — had been at the park playing basketball, just like he was every day.

Just as suddenly as she broke into a sprint, she stopped in her tracks. She could tell it was her brother lying on the ground, a bullet wound to the head.

“From his shoes,” she said through tears.

Morris was one of seven people killed over the Memorial Day weekend. In all, 52 people were shot, down from 71 a year ago. One of the city’s most violent police districts, Harrison on the West Side, recorded no shootings.

All that was little comfort to Rice.

Her brother was legally blind, though he retained a sliver of eyesight, about enough to see shadows and blurs, Rice and her uncle Deryl Young told the Tribune. He had other physical impairments, such as trouble with his strength and with walking, Young said. It was anyone’s guess how he taught himself to hoist up the basketball and hurl it at a hoop he could hardly see, but through determination he made it work.

He could read Braille and was a graduate of Curie High School, where his favorite class was “Mobility,” which aims to teach special needs students skills such as how to get around the city using public transportation. He had been volunteering with the Chicago Park District since his graduation nearly two years ago, his family said.

“He did this job fair and he met someone at the job fair who worked at a park district and they were disabled,” Rice said. “And he figured, if he can do it, I can do it, too.”
He had been working on a resume so he could get a paying job with the park district this year. He loved interacting with kids and doing things like pushing the younger kids on the swings, Rice said.

Morris loved “The Fast and the Furious” movies, the dancing in the movie “You Got Served,” and the color blue. He loved spending time with his grandmother Betty Hudson, who shares the family home and will turn 99 this summer. And he adored Young’s dogs: A German shepherd named Rocky and a Yorkshire terrier named Mercedes, both of which died a few months ago, Young said.

Rocky died first, of natural causes, and Mercedes died after being attacked by another dog at the same park where Morris was killed.

“Jervon was so upset about that. He was walking her when it happened. A pit bull came up and attacked her, and of course he couldn’t see the dog to get it off of her, so he brought her home and called me and my wife up.

“We were both at work and we rushed home, but we couldn’t do anything for her, she was dead,” Young said. “He was really quiet, you know, he doesn’t talk very much. He told us everything that happened that day. But he didn’t know who the dog was or the person that had him. He couldn’t see him.”

Young said the neighborhood, which he’s always considered safe, started changing a bit about a year ago. Shootings started happening closer to home, even in some play areas, but never in Euclid Park that the family knew of.

“Nothing like this has ever happened before – the shootings,” Young said. “They got to get that taken care of, the Chicago Police Department. But now he’s gone, it won’t bring him back.”

Police found more than one type of shell casings at the scene – which they said was about 300 yards long, or three football field lengths, from north to south – and that extended the entire distance of the park from east to west.

Authorities said they believe there was an exchange of gunfire and Morris, who along with his limited sight also was hearing impaired, was caught in the crossfire.
“He can’t even see, so he definitely didn’t know how to get out of the way,” Young said. “He didn’t know to duck.”

The timing of the shooting, just before 6 p.m., came at a time when Morris typically would have been home from volunteering, but he wasn’t working with the park district this Monday because of the holiday. Morris was likely drawn in by a basketball game playing out where he usually practiced and when the gunfire erupted, he tried to run home, police said.

Any other day, and the family would’ve been about to sit down for dinner of greens and pot roast, Young said, though Rice said Morris’ favorite food was pizza puffs. Instead, the Youngs were at a cousin’s house and Rice was home with Hudson when the policeman came to the door. The 19-year-old had to call her mom and later a brother and sister, and explain what she saw in the park.

“I got through those phone calls and I couldn’t call anyone else,” she said. “I couldn’t do it again. It hurt so much.”
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Article Org: chicagotribune.com

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