CHICAGO — Last year, I met Quentin Evans at his mother’s apartment in the notorious Cabrini-Green row houses on Cambridge Street.
I was writing about how so many kids get caught in Chicago's gun trap. Evans, who goes by “Q," had just turned 18 and was fresh out of jail on a felony gun charge that wasn’t his first. When he was 16 years old, police caught Evans carrying a gun, but he beat the juvenile case.
Evans told me the harsh reality of living in Cabrini was that he felt like everybody’s shooting in Chicago and you “gotta have a gun nowadays.”
While he was locked up in Cook County Jail on that last gun charge, some of his friends got shot — his brother took a bullet in his head — and that whole experience changed him, Evans told me.
"I realized I gotta start changing before I get in my 20s, before it's too late,” he said. "'Cause hanging out here, it's gonna be too late. I feel trapped."
Trapped … that word stuck with me long after the day we met.
Evans said he wanted out. He needed help, and had his mind set on breaking free … but he didn’t.
On Wednesday, Cook County prosecutors charged Evans, now 19, with the first-degree murder of Devonshay Lofton — a 16-year-old who performed with Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White’s famous youth tumbling group.
Devonshay was fatally shot in the 1300 block of Cleveland, an open-air drug market where you can get white heroin and cocaine in a sliver of Old Town called “Sedville.”
"If I could put [Devonshay] on the Xerox machine and make 10,000 copies, the world would be a better place. … I know for a fact that he was not involved in gangs," White said.
White called Devonshay a “bright star, a “positive force” and a gentleman in every way. "I'm almost certain they shot the wrong kid," White said.
I know how that feels.
Last summer, I was almost certain Evans would turn his life around. He started attending an alternative high school with hopes of getting a high school diploma. He got a part-time job at TJ Maxx.
He had the support of Brother Jim Fogarty, who runs a street ministry called Brothers and Sisters of Love. He also had the support of ex-felon Raymond Richard — “Brother Ray” on the street — whose group “Brothers Standing Together” aims to help kids like Q.
And I kept in touch with Evans, tipping him to potential job openings I spotted so he could afford an apartment far away from Cabrini. He was always respectful, polite and seemed so sincere.
All that I’m sure of is that when it comes to kids with guns in Chicago, nothing is ever certain.
And when I saw Evans' mugshot I could hardly believe it — at least I didn’t want to.
I called Fogarty. He wasn’t so shocked.
“I heard about Q,” he said. “Unfortunately, I’m not surprised.”
Recently, things have been tense between rivals in “Sedville” and “The Wild End” — gang turf on opposite sides of Division Street near Seward Park.
Fogarty, a missionary in Cabrini-Green and dangerous parts of town for 30 years, knows that odds are a lot of kids like Q who get caught with guns when they’re young will keep carrying guns as men. Sometimes, the obstacles they face — poverty, felony convictions and hopelessness — are too difficult for kids to overcome even when they want to.
And Evans, as far as Fogarty knew, didn’t have much going on in his life except trouble. He had a recent run-in with police, who confiscated Evans' van after pulling him over as part of a drug investigation. Evans didn’t get charged, but he never got his van back, Fogarty said.
“Q had been acting a little wild. A lot of those kids at the row houses and at Marshall Field Gardens have been fighting and getting into trouble,” he said.
And on the same day Devonshay was shot dead, Evans’ brother and his brother’s girlfriend were shot and wounded, Fogarty said.
That’s a detail that Chicago police would not comment on. With the investigation ongoing, police did not offer a motive for the slaying other than the fatal shooting was “gang-related.”
The charging document read in court was equally vague.
Evans and an ”uncharged co-offender” were on bicycles when they both pulled out semiautomatic pistols and started shooting, according to the court proffer.
A police officer saw Evans and the other man on their bikes and chased them, prosecutors said. The shooters dropped the bikes and ran. As the officer got out of his car to chase them, he shot himself in the foot when his weapon “accidentally discharged," prosecutors said.
The shooters got away, but police found a semiautomatic handgun under an SUV that was near where the officer spotted Evans, prosecutors said. Ballistics testing showed the gun matched casings recovered at the shooting scene, according to court documents.
A witness identified Evans as a person seen on a bike and carrying a gun in the area before and after the shooting, according to court documents.
Evans was arrested Monday on misdemeanor trespassing charges near his mother’s CHA apartment in the 500 block of West Walton Street. It is illegal for a felon to be on CHA property. After his arrest, police questioned him about the slaying.
On Wednesday, Judge Laura Sullivan ordered Evans held on $1 million bail.
“Brother Ray” Richard, who was close with Evans and his family, called me after Evans got charged.
He was weeping.
“This is heavy. This is no joke. This is real feelings. I tried to save that young man. You were there. You saw us trying to help him. You know that hurts,” Richard said. “I’m not saying Q did it, but this is proof that no one is helping us help these kids. We’re out here trying to prevent these things from happening, but all the funds we had are exhausted, and there’s only so much we can do.
“Q wanted out. That’s why this hurts so bad. I feel like I failed him.”
And for that, Richard says, he’s not giving up on Evans.
“Next, we gotta make sure he’s not wrongfully convicted because of the Jesse White connection. You feel me?” he asked. "If he did it, he’ll reap what he sows. But I don’t want him to get railroaded because they want an arrest. That’s no joke around here. This happens all the time. This is the election year. What we’re talking about is getting justice and peace.”
Richard says he doesn’t buy the secretary of state’s claim that he “knows for a fact” that Devonshay wasn’t involved with gangs when the slain boy’s Facebook page appears to say different.
In fact, Devonshay, who goes by his nickname “TimTim GotCloutt” on the social media site, has posted pictures of himself and others throwing up what appear to be Mickey Cobra gang signs. He also has a picture of himself pointing a gun that includes the caption, “Squadd b---- F.T.E go crazy.”
“F.T.E” stands for "[expletive] the end,” a negative reference to gang factions associated with the Cabrini-Green row houses that are known as the “Wild End.”
“He wasn’t no saint,” Richard said. “I don’t want nobody to die. We have to comfort a mother who lost her son and a mother who might lose her son. This is a no-win situation. But the truth is the truth.”
And the only truth we can be certain about is that in certain parts of Chicago kids carry guns — and they aren’t afraid to shoot — either because they have nothing left to lose or they don’t think they have a choice.
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