CHICAGO — Far from home in the freezing cold, the bloodied and beaten suburban man wearing nothing but an inside-out tank top, sandals and jean shorts hobbled down a dark West Side street alone.
A Chicago Police officer patrolling the neighborhood at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday spotted him in the 3400 block of West Lexington Street and pulled over to find out what happened. He didn’t get many answers.
"He was very discombobulated,” said Officer Michael Donnelly. “He was angered. He was confused.”
Donnelly radioed for an ambulance and soon learned the man was mentally disabled and had been reported missing in suburban Streamwood days earlier.
Little did he know the man had just escaped after being kidnapped, bound and tortured for hours in a horrific, racially-charged attack live-streamed on Facebook for all his abusers’ friends to see. It was an attack that stunned Chicago and was watched around the nation.
It started, police said, as two former classmates hanging out for days starting on New Year's Eve. But after days together, a playfight between the victim and his friend escalated into the very real abuse shown online. Three others joined in, including two sisters who lived in the apartment where it happened, police said.
Officer Michael Donnelly found the victim walking on the West Side. [Photos by DNAinfo/Ed Komenda]
The four people allegedly doling out the abuse on the video — Jordan Hall, 18; Tesfaye Cooper, 18; and sisters Brittany Covington, 18, Tanishia Covington, 24 — have been charged with hate crime, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated unlawful restraint, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, robbery, possessing a stolen car and residential burglary, according to a news release from the Cook County State's Attorney's Office.
Police say the suspects, all black, hurled racial slurs at their white victim, leading to the hate crime charges.
Hall was friends with the victim before he turned on him to join the broadcasted torture session, according to Kevin Duffin, commander of Chicago Police's Area North detectives.
As he recovers, the victim is "doing as well as he could be at this time," his family said Thursday evening.
The family knows about the charges filed against the four alleged assailants and watched the video of the attack, the victim's brother-in-law said.
"We're just happy he's home," said another family member, who said she felt utter "disbelief" when watching the video.
The case has grabbed national attention, and even drew a rebuke from The White House.
In an interview with CBS2, President Obama called the abuse "despicable." His press secretary, Josh Ernest, said it showed "a level of depravity that is an outrage to a lot of Americans."
But, Obama added, “I think the overall trajectory of race relations in this country is actually very positive."
"It doesn’t mean that all racial problems have gone away. It means that we have the capacity to get better,” said Obama.
The video streamed on Facebook showed the man with his hands tied and his mouth covered. Two people cut the man's clothes while someone laughs.
Someone takes a knife to the man's head and appears to cut his scalp, leaving the man bleeding. The kidnappers laugh, shout and joke, and at one point someone slaps the man.
Someone says they are dropping cigarette ashes on the man’s bleeding wounds. The attackers forced the man to drink water from a toilet.
The torture session took place over four to five hours, police said.
"B---- a-- n----, boy," a man says at one point. "F--- Donald Trump, n-----. F--- white people, boy."
"Let me be very clear," Supt. Johnson said at a Thursday news conference. "The actions in that video are reprehensible. That alone with racism have absolutely no place in the city of Chicago or anywhere for that matter against anyone regardless of their race, gender, state of mental health or any other identifying factor."
The trouble began on New Year’s Eve, when the victim’s parents dropped him off at a McDonald’s in Streamwood to spend the night with a friend, later identified as Hall. The pair at one time went to school together in Aurora.
While the victim waited for his friend to pick him up, Hall stole a van, Duffin said. The victim did not know the car was stolen.
Hall drove them to the West Side of Chicago to cruise around the neighborhood and visit friends for two days, Duffin said.
Detectives learned the victim even slept in the stolen van.
On Tuesday, Hall and the victim visited the apartment of two sisters: Brittany Covington, 18, Tanishia Covington, 24.
After hanging out for several hours, the victim got into a "playfight" with Hall. Things escalated from there, Duffin said.
The four suspects now charged with hate crimes tied up the victim and began to torture him for hours, streaming the attack on Facebook, police said.
A neighbor living downstairs asked the group to quiet down and called police. Angered that the neighbor called the cops, the Covington sisters went downstairs and kicked in their door. They stole from the neighbor's home on the way out, police said.
While they were downstairs, the victim escaped and wandered down the street, where Officer Donnelly found him battered and bloodied.
Later, officers responded to a battery at a home in the 3300 block of West Lexington Street and found signs of a struggle and damage to property, police said.
They were able to connect the victim to the home.
"[They] put the pieces of the puzzle together,” Donnelly said at a Thursday news conference.
Officers learned of the video and questioned suspects in the case.
The man was held for one or two days in the home and was "traumatized" after the incident, police said. They said it took the man most of the night to speak to officers about what happened.
A GoFundMe campaign to help the victim has raised more than $15,400 since it was launched early Thursday.
Though the video shows people saying "f--- Donald Trump" and "f--- white people," police said they don't think the attack was politically motivated.
Some of the comments could be chalked up to mere "stupidity," Supt. Johnson said.
"I really can't say what's in the mind of four individuals that would do something as sickening as this," Johnson said. "But I can't connect what these folks did" with Trump's comments about Chicago violence.
"It's people just ranting about something they think might make a headline."
The four are scheduled to appear in bond court on Friday, according to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
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