AUSTIN — Lionel Johnson was visiting his siblings Saturday night near his boyhood home in Austin when shots rang out.
Johnson, 29, of the 4300 block of West Jackson Drive, had been hanging out with family near the Citgo gas station at the corner of Jackson Boulevard and Cicero Avenue about 2 a.m. Sunday morning when witnesses said someone came out of a gangway and started shooting.
The group ran, but Johnson fell to ground.
"A bullet ricocheted off a steel beam, and he caught the bullet," said Karrlillian Nash, Johnson's mother.
Johnson's brother ran back to the gas station after the shooting stopped to find a bullet had hit Johnson in the chest. Johnson's eyes began to roll into the back of his head, family said.
Police were called, and Johnson was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital in serious condition. He was pronounced dead there at 5 a.m., according to the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office.
Monday morning, Johnson's mother said she was waiting for answers about the shooting. Friends and family said they believe the shooter was aiming for somebody else, and Johnson was caught in the crossfire.
No one was in custody as of Monday, and police said they were examining surveillance video to identify the shooter.
Family said the gas station was a common hangout spot. Johnson and his six siblings had been raised in the home next to the gas station on Jackson Boulevard.
Just steps from a makeshift memorial of balloons and posters, the sidewalk outside the Citgo had "Lionel" etched into it, marking the spot where Johnson and his brothers and sisters played when they were kids.
Sitting in their living room Monday morning, Johnson's family members said they were still in disbelief that Johnson, the oldest in the family, was gone.
"It's just such a tragedy," said Jerideria Nash, Johnson's sister. "You see your sibling, and then a few hours later, you're getting a call saying he's not gonna make it. ... You can't give him any more hugs or 'I love yous."
Nash said she never expected to lose her eldest son "to the streets." Johnson was a good man, a father of four young children who had never gotten into serious trouble, she said.
Johnson was the director of the music department at his church. He had graduated with honors from May Community Academy and Crane Technical Preparatory High School before learning masonry at Dawson Technical Institute in Bronzeville.
In grade school and high school, Johnson was on the math team and attended competitions in Springfield, Nash said.
"He was our tutor," she said.
Johnson's youngest brother, 13-year-old Artis McCastle, said he would go to his brother whenever he had a question with his algebra homework.
"Anytime I had questions, I'd call him, and he'd just help me," said McCastle, an eighth-grader at Chicago Jesuit Academy. "I mean, he just knew everything. There wasn't a problem he couldn't get right."
Nash said Johnson was about to start a job at Wal-mart in Forest Park, but his dream was to become a full-time youth counselor. Johnson volunteered at May Academy during the summer. He wanted to help kids because his own father was killed in 1991 at age 24, Nash said.
"His father was taken from him," she said. "He said he wanted to give back to children, to young men without a father."
Nash said she wants to see police find the people responsible for her son's death and get them off the streets.
Artis McCastle said he knows he has to learn to forgive the people who killed his brother. He said they must realize they "took somebody's life" and said he believes eventually they will regret what they did.
"We're not angry, we're taught that," he said. "We have to change as people."