WEST RIDGE — Gary Brown was a man on his way back.
Alcoholism had ended a successful law practice in Kankakee, Ill., but he was six years sober when he and a roommate were stabbed to death Aug. 28, allegedly by another roommate, in their West Rogers Park apartment.
During Brown's final six years, the former minor league pitcher had rebuilt his life.
“He was a grandfather to everybody," said Charles Hardwick, employment manager at the Howard Area Community Center.
Brown, 64, first came to the center six years ago. He embodied perseverance, Hardwick said, and shared his positive and negative life experiences when he started working at the center soon after he arrived. Brown also faithfully attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and Mass every Sunday.
“Gary came here with a clean heart and gave this to this community,” Hardwick said.
He mainly worked in the computer lab, teaching people Microsoft Office and other basic skills needed to find a job.
Despite Brown's education and career as an attorney — he had been a prosecutor and city attorney in Kankakee — he never acted like he was better than anyone else, Hardwick said. At the same time, he didn’t dumb down his instruction in the computer lab.
“He made no one feel uncomfortable or that he knew more than them,” Hardwick said.
He started a website, GLBChicago.com, and hoped to build a business teaching computer and job search skills, something that didn’t surprise Carol Szynal, his ex-wife.
“That’s the perseverance” of Brown, she said. “You turn those things around.”
On Aug. 28, Brown and his roommate, Chun Xiao "Cathy" Lee, were found stabbed to death in their blazing apartment in the 6400 block of North Sacramento Avenue, authorities said. They each had sustained more than 20 stab wounds, authorities said.
DeJuan Pratt, 24, was charged with their murder. The Roosevelt University graduate student allegedly had responded to Brown and Lee’s Craigslist posting seeking a roommate, Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Jamie Santini said in court. Pratt allegedly had moved in just five days before Brown and Lee were found dead.
Prosecutors said Pratt stole their credit cards and used them to bankroll a Las Vegas vacation.
On the day of the murders, Pratt told police he’d been attacked and had sustained a deep wound to his hand, Santini said.
On Sept. 23, Pratt, who is from Ohio, posted on his Facebook page that he was “chillin” at the pool at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. After checking to see when Pratt was flying back to Chicago, police were able to arrest him at O’Hare airport, Santini said.
Pratt’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Julie Koehler, said her client graduated from Central State University in Ohio and moved to Chicago to continue his education.
While Szynal said the family took comfort in knowing that a suspect had been arrested, that did not ease the pain of their two grown daughters and son not getting a chance to know Brown in their adulthood.
“All those things you look forward to with adult relationships … weddings, grandchildren, all those things are now lost,” she said. “It’s such a waste. The lives of my children are altered forever. And for what?”
Brown played basketball and baseball in college, and was a pitcher for the Montreal Expos’ minor league system for two years, she said.
The family will remember Brown for the zeal with which he threw himself into any activity, Szynal said.
When their son was 7, he wanted a treehouse. Brown built a luxury model that featured cable TV, a refrigerator and phone lines.
He taught his son how to pitch and how to play chess, Szynal said. The two always had chess matches going online.
“His time was for others,” Szynal said.