CANARYVILLE — About five hours before he was shot to death, Keith Noceda posted this Facebook message, his last-ever status update:
No matter how good or bad you think life is, wake up each day and be thankful for life…Somebody somewhere is fighting to survive…
That November day, Noceda, 19, had been speaking with his mom, Jill Pegausch, who was planning to have a cyst on her arm examined by a surgeon and Keith was bracing for bad news.
The two ordered Chinese food and got to talking inside the family's Canaryville home. During their talk, Pegausch said she tried to steer her son away from the crowd he ran around with, a crew who identified with the Insane Deuces gang and the Canaryville Goonz, a Deuces sub-unit.
She was worried about Noceda, a high school dropout who bounced between Chicago with his mom and Alabama with his dad.
About a year earlier, Noceda had a run-in with Chicago police: records show he was charged with unlawful use of a weapon after cops saw him toss a stolen, loaded 9mm handgun into an alley at 42nd and Halsted streets. He was sentenced to prison and released on parole on Oct. 25, 2012.
But there, at the kitchen table on Nov. 20, Noceda told his mom he wanted to better himself. He said he was going to finish high school and was working some connections to land a job at McCormick Place.
"I know that people only think because I'm his mom that I believe that. But other people who knew him knew that. And my friends knew it, too," she said.
Later that night, Noceda retreated to another room to play video games with his younger brother and then walked out the door.
Pegausch has two words for what happened next: “hell” and “numb.”
A 38-year-old mother of six, Pegausch works at a medical supply company in the southwest suburbs and, like many single moms, she’s the only thing holding the family together.
The call about Keith's shooting came around 1 p.m. the next day.
"I don't remember too much for awhile after that," she said.
Noceda's body was found in a gangway in the 4500 block of South Halsted Street around 9:45 a.m. on Nov. 21. His family believes the shooting took place the night before — his aunt Marie lives two doors from the crime scene and heard gunfire that night. She thought it was fireworks.
"And then I had to learn it was my f-cking nephew," the aunt said.
Within days of the shooting, the family said, neighborhood kids started taking credit for the shooting on Facebook, saying they “smoked” Noceda and hurled slurs his way.
Pegausch said she "already kinda figured out" who pulled the trigger and shared that information with investigators.
She also began a crusade to solve the crime herself, staying up all night stalking Facebook in an effort to connect the dots. She started preaching to area teens in hopes of steering them out of neighborhood street gangs.
Exhausted, she gave up on both pursuits.
But the family hasn't given up on Noceda's case. Pegausch said she calls detectives "as much as they'll answer" and still searches for clues.
"It's distracting and it makes me nuts but I know there's going to be an arrest," she said.
About 100 relatives and friends came to a memorial ceremony at Taylor Lauridsen Park on Thursday, which would've been Keith's 20th birthday.
The ceremony was designed to celebrate Noceda's life and show "he was a better kid than people made him out to be," Pegausch said.
Dressed in homemade T-shirts showing Noceda as a smiling redhead birthday boy, they released dozens of blue balloons promptly at 5:30 p.m., around the same time the sky unleashed heavy rains.
Some of the balloons were batted down by the deluge, left to hang in mid-air until the storm passed.