HUMBOLDT PARK — Longtime neighborhood residents gathered in the cold Tuesday night with newcomers and the family of Rolando Leon, a Humbolt Park father who was killed earlier this month.
In a neighborhood that has seen the biggest rise citywide in fatal shootings in 2014, the small group held hands and sang to remember those killed in Humboldt Park over the last year.
The vigil, attended by around 30 people, was the fourth weekly grassroots gathering of neighbors, community groups and local churches at the intersection of Grand and Springfield avenues.
The first vigil was organized after Leon was killed Dec. 12. Since then, another man was killed in Humboldt Park which saw 20 such killings in 2014, up from 14 in 2013, according to Cook County Medical Examiner records.
The neighborhood has experienced 181 fatal shootings since 2007, the third highest number citywide, second only to West Englewood and Austin, according to Red Eye. The average distance from home at the time of death was a single mile, according to DNAinfo Chicago data.
And those numbers do not include rampant shootings citywide that didn’t result in a fatality.
Leon, 28, was in a car with his 3-year-old daughter on the 1300 block of North Springfield Avenue in Humboldt Park when someone came up to the car and fired shots, striking him in his head, according to authorities.
His young daughter was the last to see him alive that day, according to Leon’s sister, Esmeralda Leon, who gathered with her mother, father and family friend Tuesday night.
“She remembers everything that happened,” Esmeralda Leon said of her niece. “She thinks it was fireworks that took her father. She was just hugging her dad — the last thing he said was that he loved her.”
Alfredo Leon, Rolando Leon's father, described the victim as “a great son, a great brother and a great father. He was living for his daughter.”
Both of Rolando Leon's relatives said there was more to the Humboldt Park father than appeared in media and police reports listing his gang affiliation. Leon had a past history with gang life but had gotten out a decade ago, they said.
“I don’t care what anyone says, he was trying to do right,” said Blanca Collazo, a family friend who watched Leon grow up. "He lived for his daughter up until the last breath he had — he died protecting her.”
The Humboldt Park vigils have become a regular staple of life on the neighborhood’s corners and a source of comfort and community as residents pray for safety.
“I have my 17-year-old son and I’m scared to send him to the store in case he gets gunned down,” Collazo told the group gathered at Grand and Springfield. “We need to make a change, something’s got to give. These youngsters need something to do and we need to reach out to them. We need to wake up.”
“I’m tired,” she continued as neighbors sang hymns and prayed. “That’s all I have to say.”
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