Lynetta Smith stared through the glass doors of the Cook County medical examiner’s office and awaited the return of relatives who had gone to identify her stepfather.
They all hoped it wasn’t him, that he had been misidentified, that they had notified the wrong family.
“What if it ain’t him?” Smith told other relatives in the small space between two double doors where the family waited. “What if it ain’t him?”
From where Smith and six other relatives waited, they could see cubicle walls and other markings of a bureaucracy that handles the identification of thousands of bodies each year.
It was early afternoon Sunday. The new year was only 50 hours old.
Finally, the relatives came back in tears. It was him. Randy James, Smith’s 39-year-old stepfather and her mother Gwendolyn’s husband, was the first homicide of 2015 in Chicago.
It’s not clear exactly how James was shot. It happened in the 5000 block of West Superior Street in the South Austin neighborhood about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, about 2 miles from his home. Police were called after he drove to West Suburban Medical Center, about 1.5 miles west.
Because of the severity of his wound, paramedics rushed James down Interstate 290 through the West Side, where he and his family were raised, to Stroger Hospital, where he died more than four hours later. The autopsy said he died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen.
Smith learned of the shooting when she turned onto his parents’ block and saw all the cars lined up Saturday. She shut out the news at first, yelling at her sister not to come up the stairs and blocking out what she knew to be true.
“I was just, I couldn’t let them tell me,” Smith, 24, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “I was just like, no. They was coming up, I was like no. ‘No, no no. It’s not (him). Get out of my house, no.’ ”
Then on Sunday, her mother came down the hallway of the medical examiner’s office crying after seeing her husband’s face on a TV screen the office uses to show the dead.
“So I’m trying to be strong and I’m like, ‘Was it him?’ ” Smith recalled. “So I started hitting the glass and crying. Just crying, saying, ‘Oh my God, it’s really him.’ ”
“And now he’s gone,” James’ older brother Robert said Tuesday. “We still family. Still got his family to help out as much as I can. They lost someone too. My mother, father, they lost they son. Sisters, they lost they brother. Wife, kids, cousin, family members.”
Robert James used to joke that his only brother was the second soldier in a two-man army.
“At the end of the day, that’s my family, and I carry a heavy heart,” he said. “But you know, it don’t do me no good to be in sorrow and curl up in a corner and look for an answer that I know at the end of the day isn’t going to bring him back.”
James cooked for a living and also did odd jobs, family said, working most recently in a seasonal job with a building materials company.
He met his wife, Gwendolyn, while he worked at a school about 15 years ago. She is six years his senior, but Randy James had no problem stepping into the role of father to Gwendolyn’s three daughters, who are now 28, 25 and 24. The couple has six grandchildren.
“(My) daughters were real young,” Gwendolyn said. “He called them his chicks. He took care of them, very well.”
When detectives knocked on the door of James’ father Saturday morning, Gwendolyn James said, his father wasn’t sure at first they were at the right place. They had been led there by the registration found in James’ van, known to the neighborhood as the “spaceship” because of the multicolored lights all over it, relatives said.
That morning, James’ father called Gwendolyn to see if he was home and whether police had made a mistake.
James had told his wife he was leaving for a minute, probably to the store, and would return soon. When he didn’t, she called, and called, and called.
“You know I was having a fit with him not answering his phone,” she said. “Just hoping he was alright, just hoping he was alright. This is something he doesn’t do. … You kinda hope all kinds of things other than this. The police give him problems with the lights on his van, thought maybe the police locked him up or something like that.”
Police said it’s not clear why James was shot. His criminal record stops about 19 years ago when he pleaded guilty in separate cases and was sentenced to two and six years in the Illinois Department of Corrections, terms he served concurrently.
His family said he didn’t gangbang, wasn’t into drugs and didn’t have arguments with anyone in the neighborhood. They’re not sure why he was in the block where he was shot either.
It doesn’t appear the spaceship was damaged in the shooting, Gwendolyn said, so he may have caught a stray aimed at someone else.
“(Police) said he was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said. “They said that they think it was shots fired in the area and just so happened he got hit with one. Because there was no blood inside the car, (he) wasn’t inside of the car, maybe was outside talking with someone.”
“All this is a shock. You know, you never expect to hear anything like this, not with someone like him,” she said. “Natural death would have been OK, but this kind is quite shocking.”
Source: Chicago Tribune