PULLMAN — Two days after her 16-year-old son was fatally shot while allegedly robbing an off-duty sheriff's sergeant, Tonia Stevens said she's still in disbelief.
"It was so aggressive. [My son] was struggling with some behavior issues, but nothing this extreme — not sticking people up. Are you serious?" Stevens asked.
"It's like: What did you want? I did the best I could with the little we had. He wasn't homeless. He wasn't hungry. He wasn't thrown out to fend for himself. So I just don't understand."
Stevens' son, Deonta Mackey, was one of three males who allegedly tried to rob an off-duty Cook County Sheriff's sergeant at a Pullman gas station Monday night.
According to police and surveillance footage, the three walked up to the sergeant, who was pumping gas in the 700 block of East 103rd Street, and demanded his wallet. Deonta pointed a gun at the man while someone else searched his car.
As the sergeant handed over his wallet and other valuables, the officer reached for his own gun and shot Deonta in his head, police said. The two other men ran away, and Deonta was pronounced dead at the scene at 10:08 p.m.
Sitting in her Pullman home Wednesday morning, Stevens recounted a history of behavioral issues with her son. He could be "mannerable" and funny — sometimes he'd dance just to make his mom laugh, she said — but he also had "some dark sides."
In 2010, Deonta almost died of meningitis, Stevens said. He spent a year in the hospital recovering and had lasting medical issues.
"After that surgery, I saw a totally different side of him. Aggressive behavior," Stevens said. Deonta got into fights, was disrespectful at school and ran with a rough crowd.
Stevens — a single mother with four sons — said she did everything she could to change Deonta's behavior. She sought out male mentors and alternative education programs. She checked in with his friends' parents and tried to get him involved with a local church.
"He was just determined to hang with the wrong crowd and be part of the negative influences around him," she said, adding that too many young men in the neighborhood are too focused on rap, gangs and "turning up," or partying.
"I tried to stay on top of [Deonta's behavior] as much as I could. ... Everybody knew me as 'Here come his mama,'" Stevens said. "It's just sad that peer pressure is winning the streets. It's a lot of negative peer pressure going on."
Deonta had seen several friends get shot to death, Stevens said. According to his brother, Deonta was especially shaken by the death of Brenden Temple, 21, a close friend gunned down in September.
"So many of these young guys around here — teenagers — didn't even make it to 17 or 18. Too many of them lost their lives," Stevens said. "It took a real toll on him."
As she sat in her apartment in the 900 block of East 104th Street and clutched a grade-school photo of Deonta, Stevens reminisced about his Little League years. He had always loved baseball and basketball; he was "really smart" but lacked focus at school, she said.
"It's sad that my son chose that life. He had some dark sides, but he was a good kid, too, at the same time," she said. "I'm just in disbelief."