WOODLAWN — Laveta Richardson found out her youngest son had been murdered through Facebook.
A little after 10 p.m. Wednesday, the mother of three heard a knock on her front door. Her niece had seen "RIP Venzel" messages scrolling through her news feed and wanted to know what happened.
Two hours earlier, 14-year-old Venzel Richardson had been gunned down a few blocks from his Woodlawn home. The teen was walking with two friends in the 6100 block of South Vernon Avenue when someone in a white van opened fire, police said.
Venzel was shot in his head and pronounced dead on the scene at 8:25 p.m.
By the time his mother got there, she said, Venzel's body already had been moved. Police asked her to stay in the car as she demanded answers.
"I never wanted to be like the mothers on TV that are crying because their babies got shot," Richardson said Thursday as she began to break down and sob. "And now I'm a victim. They shot my baby in the head."
On Thursday morning, relatives gathered around Richardson in her home in the 6400 block of South St. Lawrence Avenue. The mother of three struggled to string together words as she convulsed with tears. Her sister held her.
"I wanted to keep my baby home, but you can't keep your baby in the house all the time," she said. "They go outside. You can't keep them in forever."
Venzel had been walking home from a grocery run when he was fatally shot, his mom said. He wanted chips and candy.
Police said the shooting was possibly gang-related and that Venzel had gang affiliations.
His family denied the allegations, insisting he was a bystander in a bad neighborhood that they've seen decline in the last decade.
Venzel was a freshman at Dunbar Vocational Career Academy, 3000 S. King Drive, relatives said. He was in ROTC and liked English class. He played football and hoped to make varsity. In his spare time, Venzel liked playing video games and making videos with friends. He had hoped to attend a Chicago college so he wouldn't have to move too far from home, his mom said.
"We don't want Venzel to be known how the police are portraying him — as a gangbanger," said his aunt, Denise Richardson. "We don't want him to be another statistic, just lying out there in the snow. Dead. Just another black kid. 'Oh, he's in a gang.'"
Denise Richardson said she's worried detectives will write off her nephew's slaying as "just another" gang shooting.
"It's probably going to get, like, 20 minutes of attention. Then they'll forget about it and move on to the next case, " she said.
Laveta Richardson said she was worried about funeral costs. She lost her job a year ago, and with it, her insurance. She didn't know how she'd bury her son.
"I used to sit my son in front of the television and say, 'Look Venzel, look at what this mom is going through. ... I want you to be careful out there. Don't go down certain streets.' ... Now my baby is gone."