SOUTH CHICAGO — The morning he was killed, Antiono ‘'Tony'’ Gray was trying to buy a gun for protection following a feud with a neighbor, family members said.
But instead, they suspect, the 26-year-old father and mechanic was set up and killed after a botched robbery.
While police could not confirm that account, family said they've told police who they think was involved in the crime in which Gray was gunned down on the 7800 block of South Muskegon Avenue Saturday — just a few blocks away from his family’s home on the 8100 block of the same street.
“It's just so wrong,” his mother, Jeannette Gray, said Monday, her voice shaking and her eyes tearing up. “They take the best of us, and they leave the rest of us all the time.”
About 7:30 a.m., Gray coordinated his day with the mother of his children, who asked not to be named. She would work from 2-10 p.m. He’d run errands in the morning.
“After I do what I have to do,” he reportedly told her, “I’m going to come back and spend all day with the kids” — Antiono Jr., 7, Antoniana, 6, and Antion, 2.
Gray set out with his best friend, who would later call with grim news. About 9:47 a.m., police said, Gray was shot in the upper back.
Several family members rushed down the street, arriving at the crime scene just in time to see Gray lifted on to a gurney.
“I called his name, and he looked at me,” said the mother of his children. “He gave me this look like, ‘I’m okay.’ That was the last time I saw him.”
Gray was transferred to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in serious condition, where he was pronounced dead at 12:09 p.m., the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office said.
As of midday Monday, Area South detectives were still investigating the shooting, said Officer Jose Estrada, a police spokesman. No one was in custody.
Family members believe the murder dates back to a January altercation, when Gray allegedly got into a fight with a male neighbor. The man allegedly threatened Gray, family said, and the two got into a physical fight.
“You know, I never thought nothing of it,” said his sister-in-law, who asked not to be named. “Nothing small like that should escalate to where you’ve got to kill each other, so I brushed it off.”
The morning he was killed, Gray was allegedly trying to buy a gun, possibly from someone who knew the man Gray had gotten in a fight with earlier. Family believe Gray might have been set up.
“He wasn’t a street person,” Gray’s sister-in-law said. “That wasn’t his lifestyle.”
“I don’t know why” her son wanted a gun, his mother said. “Maybe he thought he needed to protect himself.”
Relatives filed in and out of the Jeanette Gray’s South Chicago home Monday. Antiono and his brother Derick, Jeanette's only other child, were especially close, she said.
As far back as Jeanette Gray could remember, her son loved to tinker. Cars, computers, phones, lamps — it didn’t much matter what it was, she said.
“He used to lay under the car and help his dad a lot,” Jeanette Gray said. “He loved it so much that that’s what he grew up to do.”
After graduating from Thornton Township High School in 2004, Gray became a mechanic for AAA. The father of three was known among friends and family as someone who could fix a busted laptop and would help you move in a pinch.
Other family members described Gray as "kind," "giving" and "funny."
“You could be mad and angry, and he would just say something that could take you right out of it,” said his sister-in-law, who didn’t wish to be named. “He had a great sense of humor.”
“He was nothing but a big kid,” said the mother of his children, who characterized Gray as a doting father.
He frequently watched Mickey Mouse and SpongeBob with his youngest son, she said. And he bought Xbox and Wii game systems for the older two.
“Our daughter is in love with Dora [the Explorer], so he would actually sit there and play Dora games all day,” the mother said.
"[Antiono] was just kind," his mother said. "He would go out of his way to help people, even people who didn’t help him. ... People say their children become angels when they’re deceased. My child was a walking angel. Anybody would tell you: He was an angel.”