CHICAGO — Timika Rutledge-German finally accepted there was only so much she could do to protect her 15-year-old son from Chicago’s dangerous streets, but when he called for her help, she knew she would come.
On Monday night, her son called her for a ride home.
Minutes later, as he lay dying on the South Side from a bullet wound to the back, her son called out for her one more time.
“Call my mama,” her son, Cornelius German, cried out, she later learned. But she could not help him this time. Her son was pronounced dead at 12:50 a.m. Tuesday at the Cook County medical examiner’s office, and no one was in custody for his homicide Tuesday evening.
While his mother said her son had trouble in school and had friends who were gang members, he was still just a boy.
“He’s still a 15-year-old kid,” she said. “He was still a baby. He didn’t deserve this.”
German, nicknamed “Cornbread,” had been killed just four blocks from President Barack Obama’s home in the Kenwood neighborhood, echoing the slaying of Hadiya Pendleton, an honor student, also 15, whose fatal shooting in January in Harsh Park, about a mile north of the president’s residence, brought international attention to Chicago’s gun violence.
His mother admitted that her son rebelled against authority and hung with gang members, but she was unhappy that Chicago police had so quickly called his slaying gang-related.
“This is not Hadiya Pendleton. This is Cornelius German, a boy affiliated with gangs,” Rutledge-German said. “Police can’t say he was a known gangbanger. He hung with everybody because they were his homies.”
Police officials said the boy had “documented gang ties.” He also had a juvenile record that included arrests for armed robbery and findings of guilt for theft and battery, according to law enforcement sources.
German grew up around Chicago’s South Side and lived for several years just blocks away from the Obama family home, his mother said and records show. But even after his family moved further west into the Back of the Yards neighborhood, he would often return to his old stomping grounds to hang with friends, as he did Monday night, his mother said.
While the teen was slain just a short walk from the Secret Service-protected Obama house, the shooting occurred in a vastly different neighborhood still troubled by crime. The location of the shooting – the narrow 5000 block of South Evans Avenue – is made up of modest, brick multi-unit buildings and is directly across the street from Washington Park.
On Monday night, Cornelius called his parents and asked them to come pick him up at a Walgreen’s at East 50th Place and South Cottage Grove Avenue. But when the couple arrived at 9:38 p.m., he was nowhere to be seen so his mother called his cellphone and his friend’s phone, she said. He asked them to pick him up at a friend’s nearby home, saying he had been too fearful to walk to the bus stop because of recent gang troubles there, she said.
Rutledge-German said she and her husband, Ronald German, eased into a parking space on South Evans Avenue and honked their horn for their son to come out. As they sat in the darkness, they saw the crowds of young men walking away and police blocking off an area, she said.
She asked an officer: “What’s going on?”
“A kid was shot in the back,” the officer told her.
“Everything in me, my whole soul, my whole body, said, ‘Timika, that’s your baby,’ ” Rutledge-German said.
The mother walked from her car to the scene and saw the body lying in the grass lot, surrounded by police, she said.
“I knew it was my baby cause I saw his shoes,” she said. “And I saw his jacket. I knew it was him.”
Though his mother insisted her son was not in a gang, she did not deny his struggles. He was kicked out of the Chicago Public Schools and put in alternative schools after he defied authority figures and developed an attitude problem, she said. He hung out with gang members, she added. But just two months ago, he had earned his way back into Kenwood Academy High School to the delight of his parents who had high hopes that he was finally being given a chance to straighten out.
Rutledge-German worried that her son’s death wouldn’t receive the same priority from police as Hadiya’s slaying because the boy lived in a tough part of town and had a more troubled past.
“I’m still in shock,” she said. “I’ve shed a few tears, but not enough. I just can’t accept it.”