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  • Juan and Esther Pitts, who lost two children to gun violence in the last three years, at the corner of S Jeffrey Blvd and E 95th St on February 26, 2013. ( Lenny Gilmore/ RedEye )
Juan and Esther Pitts, who lost two children to gun violence in the last three…
February 27, 2013|By Tracy Swartz, @tracyswartz | RedEye

The day her youngest son, Kendrick, was shot and killed, Esther Pitts knew something wasn't right.

Kendrick, 17, was running late that morning, which was unusual. She suggested he stay home. He said he wanted to go to school. He never came back.

Kendrick was one of three teens shot and killed on a South Chicago corner on Feb. 20, 2009. Prosecutors say gang member Martin Ybarra used a European rifle to kill Pitts, 13-year-old Johnny Edwards and 15-year-old Raheem Washington. Ybarra was aiming for a rival gang member, police said. He is awaiting trial.

"You never expect [violence] to hit your home," Esther Pitts said Tuesday. "And when it did, it has sadness in your house."

Pitts said she has grown so tired of dealing with the violence that she plans to leave her South Deering community, which has seen its number of homicides jump from five in 2009 to 11 in 2012, and move to Florida next month.

The South Chicago incident, which was the only triple homicide that year, served as a catalyst for RedEye to start tracking homicides in February 2009. Since then, RedEye has compiled data about homicide locations, times and community areas and recorded information about each victim's sex, age and race.

Just a few weeks before Pitts' killing, Chicago ended 2008 with more than 500 homicides—the first time that mark had been hit since 2003—after years of decline from homicide numbers in the 900-plus range in the early 1990s.

The number of homicides wasn't the only reason people were watching Chicago for its violence in early 2009. Although many homicides go unnoticed, two high-profile cases drew national media attention within months of each other: the killing of "American Idol" star Jennifer Hudson's brother, mother and nephew and the killing of former Bulls star Eddy Curry's ex-girlfriend and their infant daughter.

It's now four years later, and eyes still are on Chicago. The city topped 500 homicides again last year, and started 2013 with 43 homicides in January, according to RedEye data.

Chicago gun violence this month was at the forefront of President Obama's State of the Union speech. The address came just two weeks after the shooting death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who performed at Obama's inauguration.

Since RedEye began logging homicides in February 2009, the city has recorded more than 1,800 deaths. The violence has reached every corner of the city.

Few know the effects of violence better than Esther Pitts. Two weeks after Kendrick was killed—on the very day she got his death certificate—her 18-year-old son Carnell was shot to death in South Chicago.

Pitts, who has two biological children and six adopted children, said two of her other children also have suffered gunshot wounds in recent years.

"We're ready to get up out of here," Pitts said. "It's not getting any better. It seems to be getting worse."

tswartz@tribune.com


Track every Chicago homicide by neighborhood, age, race and more on our homicide map and follow along with our coverage of Chicago violence here.


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