ROGERS PARK — Willie Dixon said the incident Sunday that left his son with a bullet wound in his hand was one of the reasons violence has spread "like wildfire" on the North Side.
Dixon, 31, who works for CeaseFire in Rogers Park and Uptown, said his son was with friends, none older than 15, when two men opened fire at the group in the 1900 block of West Birchwood Avenue, striking only Armoni Dixon, his oldest child.
It's incidents like this, he said, that spark gang wars — or keep them going.
"Hurt people hurt people," Dixon said outside his apartment on Juneway Terrace, in a neighborhood that's suffered a string of shootings this week. "This stuff is out of hand because it's spread like wildfire" from one group to the next.
He said he hopes his Armoni's heart doesn't "turn cold" like the hearts of so many others in Chicago touched by street violence.
Ben Woodard says Armoni has aspirations of playing in the NFL:
But the heart of Armoni Dixon, a 3.0-GPA student at Brennemann Elementary School with plans to attend Loyola Academy on a full scholarship in the fall, is as warm as ever.
"I know that they are wrong for doing that, but I still forgive them," Armoni said after getting home from school Thursday on the hottest day of the year. His short dreads just barely reached his yellow polo T-shirt. His right hand was still wrapped and bound in a brace.
Armoni said he had been in suburban Waukegan at a basketball tournament Sunday morning with his team. After that, he and a teammate met some other friends at Pottawattomie Park. As they walked back to a friend's house at about 2:40 p.m., the spring afternoon spiraled into chaos.
"They saw us, but we didn't know them," he said of two men walking toward him and his friends.
One of the men opened fire.
"The people that were shooting at us thought we were gangbangers," Armoni said.
After the first few gunshots, "everyone started running," he said.
Six more shots went off, according to his count.
He said as he and the others ran into his friend's apartment, he was scared they were being chased by the men.
He couldn't feel the pain, he said, but he saw his hand was bleeding.
"I got a call from my fiancée," his father said "She said, 'Armoni's been shot.' [The words] 'Armoni' and 'shot' doesn't belong together."
So the elder Dixon, who was home, grabbed his 4-year-old daughter and rushed to the scene of the shooting, where his son was being treated in an ambulance.
"He was shocked," he said of his son, who was trying to hold back tears in front of his dad.
Where he was shot — not that he was shot — was "a blessing," Armoni said.
The doctor told him he could take the hand brace off in two weeks; he won't miss too much basketball, and he would be able to get back on the football field to pursue his dream of playing as a linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers.
Armoni said he hopes to support his family by playing in the NFL.
For Dixon, the incident fuels his passion to end street violence even though his CeaseFire group has been without funding for three months.
"I'm hurt that people don't understand how important it is to have violence prevention," he said.
Dixon's "son is being shot in gang violence and he’s still seeking nonviolence,” said Chris Patterson, the leader of CeaseFire in the neighborhood. “If he can forgive someone for shooting his son, then surely these gang rivals can.”
For Armoni, the incident makes him even more excited to attend Loyola Academy in Wilmette, where he will live during the school year.
When asked how he feels about the neighborhood in which he took a bullet in his hand, he said, "It's not safe."
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