ENGLEWOOD — Regina Lawrence joined other family members in a South Side park Sunday to honor the memory of not only her cousin, who was brutally murdered 15 years ago, but her own daughter — who was shot and killed in the same park earlier this year.
The event marked 15 years to the day since 11-year-old Ryan Harris was found raped and murdered in an overgrown lot in Englewood. The lot eventually became Ryan Harris Memorial Park, where the family holds a yearly "celebration of life" in her honor.
It also marked two months and 10 days since Lawrence's daughter, Shaneda Lawrence, was shot and killed in the same park.
This year, the annual get-together in the young girl's honor was almost called off, Ryan's mother Sabrina Harris said. After Shaneda's death, she didn't know if she had the strength to revisit the scene of yet another family tragedy.
"At first I thought of [the park] as sacred ground," she said, with Lawrence, her cousin, by her side. "But now it's almost like a killing field."
The cousins said their shared loss has strengthened their relationship.
"At first I wanted to cancel it, but then people reminded me why I started doing it in the first place," Harris said.
The goal was to provide a safe space for kids in the community and connect with family.
"The death of my daughter took a toll on my entire family," Lawrence said as police walked the elevated train tracks where a shooter sent bullets into a crowd of nearly 100 people on May 18, killing her daughter and wounding two others.
"When I lost my daughter, Sabrina was there for me," Lawrence said.
Though the annual family gathering continues, Harris said the park has changed for the worse in the 15 years since Ryan was killed.
"A lot of people are scared to come out even in broad daylight," Harris said of the park. "It used to be clean."
Police patrolling the tracks were sent at her request, Harris said, adding she wouldn't feel as safe in the park if not for their presence.
Dozens of children and their parents took advantage of the extra security at the park Sunday, and about 100 people looked on as balloons in Ryan Harris' honor were released into the sky.
Her mother said the family will continue to celebrate in "the family park" — but now they have two untimely deaths to honor.
"I think it's always going to feel strange coming here," she said.