By Don Babwin
CHICAGO — When a 14-year-old Chicago girl was arrested on charges that she shot and killed another 14-year-old Chicago girl, much of the attention centered on how the shooting stemmed from an argument over a boy that was playing out on Facebook.
But to hear police, prosecutors and the victim's friends tell it, the slaying of Endia Martin was also a tragedy that could have been stopped by many people along the way — from a trusted uncle charged with bringing the teen a gun and watching as she opened fire, to an aunt who authorities say did not step in, to the victim herself, who did not heed classmates' warnings that she risked facing a gun on that April afternoon.
The war of words ended with Martin joining the longest list of homicides in any city in the nation — offering a glimpse at life and death in some pockets of Chicago, where a reflex to grab a gun has become entrenched enough that even the victim understood the other teen might be armed.
"They are making her look like a monster when she was just a love-starved child who turned to the wrong person," said Jerry Thomas, 48, a neighbor of the girl and acquaintance of the uncle, 25-year-old Donnell Flora, who is charged with first-degree murder. "This thing took both children's lives."
The girl charged with shooting Martin in the back on April 28 will appear in juvenile court Friday on a first-degree murder charge. The Associated Press is not releasing her name because she is a minor.
Martin, a vibrant girl who wanted to be a nurse like her mother, became the latest symbol of the violence that has put Chicago at the center of a national debate about gun crime. In 2012, the city recorded more than 500 homicides — nearly 100 more than New York and 200 more than Los Angeles. The numbers have since dropped, though Chicago still leads the nation as stories of bloodshed accumulate.
Endia Martin's death highlights another part of the same Chicago story: Not of a gang dispute, but one of neighborhoods where police say firearms are so easy to find, so accepted, that a good student and respectful child allegedly contacted an uncle — himself, police say, a known gang member who has been in a wheelchair since he was shot in 2010 — and asked him to bring her a gun.
The minister who eulogized Endia at her funeral said he sees Flora as a man passing on a way of life that he can no longer have himself.
"If you're shot and paralyzed, what do you do?" asked Pastor Larry Martin, who is not related to Endia. "You can't be the villain in the neighborhood in a wheelchair, but you can help empower someone else."
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy made a similar point after Flora's arrest, pointing to his refusal to cooperate with investigators after he was shot as a "'classic example of the cycle of violence ... that exemplifies what we are up against." McCarthy points to the prevalence of guns, and lenient sentences for gun crimes, as one of the main problems behind the city's violence.
The teen charged in the slaying was, according to Thomas, a nice girl who always had a book in her hand and said hello on her way to school. Both she and her uncle are represented by Cook County's public defender's office, which declined to comment.
Authorities also contended the suspect's aunt could have intervened. During a court hearing, a police officer testified that 32-year-old Vandetta Redwood encouraged the suspect and other teens to "kick their ass" as they rode a bus that day.
Footage from a cellphone camera appears to confirm Redwood was at the fight, said her attorney. But he argued there was no evidence she played a role in the shooting and a judge agreed, dismissing mob action and obstruction charges against her. Redwood declined comment.
At Endia's high school, there's talk among students that there could have been a different outcome had she listened to classmates who heard someone might bring a gun.
"But she didn't expect anyone to actually use it," said one of the classmates who tried to talk Endia out of going to the scene of the fight. The classmate, who has known both girls since elementary school, spoke on condition of anonymity due to concern about retaliation. "Sometimes they bring guns to a fight — it happens."
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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press