'How could anybody do this?' says resident of toddler found in lagoon

$1000 reward offered at prayer vigil for information on toddler found in Garfield Park lagoon

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By La Risa Lynch

Contributing Reporter

Search crews over the weekend wrapped up draining the Garfield Park lagoon where body parts of a dismembered toddler were discovered, but a few days before local ministers gathered at the park's Golden Dome field house and prayed.

Nearly 100 residents attended a prayer vigil last Thursday, Sept. 10, where ministers prayed that the community would be unified and strengthened by this tragedy. They also prayed for information that will lead to identity of the child, who police officials described as an African American, possibly male, between the ages of two and four years old.

"We as a faith community, we as community leaders have an obligation to stand together and now we come to challenge those who are responsible and those who have information to come forth," said Rev. Johnny L. Miller, pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church.

 "This incident of this child is evidence that we need a covering over our community. We need a covering over the city of Chicago. Our children must be covered," said Rev. Michael Eaddy, pastor of People's Church of the Harvest. "But we must acknowledge that the remedy to this spiritual matter of violence rest in the spiritual arena and it will require the blood of Jesus Christ."

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) called for the Thursday evening prayer vigil. A range of other political leaders were on hand as well, including state Sen. Patricia Van Pelt (5th), Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st) and Ald. Michael Scott (24th).

Ervin said it's important that residents stand on "one accord working together" to prevent this from happening "to any other child in our community."

"If one of our children hurts then all of us hurt," he said.

Police officials released a composite sketch of the child, hoping it would generate leads to the child's identity. A $1,000 reward was also offered to anyone with any tips leading to an arrest.

Police officers passed flyers of the forensic sketch detailing what the child may have looked like. The child was described as possibly black or biracial, with short black hair suggesting male gender, although the female gender could not be ruled out.

Over the weekend, police expanded the search to nearby Humboldt Park and Columbus Park, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Both parks are within a few miles of where the remains were found and all have lagoons. A foot was found floating in the lagoon over the Labor Day weekend by a passerby, who then alerted people nearby to call 911. Dive crews later found hands and then the head.

Last Sunday, the Chicago Police Department completed an exhaustive search of the Garfield Park lagoon and no additional remains were found, according to a department press release. The police are still seeking public help, asking residents to report any suspicious activity in the park leading up to when the remains were found.

Commander Barbara West of the 11th police district repeated the authorities' plea for help during Thursday's prayer vigil.

"We're asking the community if they see something or saw something … any suspicious activity they may have observed or remember, to contact the number at the detective division," West said.

Ervin expressed concern that no one has come forward with information on any missing child cases.

"We are not talking about a newborn baby," Ervin said. "We are talking about somebody who has been with us for a couple of years. So I am surprised that we haven't found that missing person report. That's what perplexes us right now."

The gruesome find in the lagoon has also affected the larger Garfield Park community.

"We are so saddened for the lost. We are saddened for the loss of any life, but especially for the loss of an innocent child's life," said West Garfield Park resident Jackie Coffer. "That is almost too much to bear."

She said she is praying for the child but also for the person or persons who committed this crime to turn themselves in.

"We know that if we continue to pray and continue to come together that justice would be done for this child. That's my prayer," Coffer said.

Kimberly D. Muhammad, also of West Garfield Park, said she is still baffled that anyone would commit such a crime.

"How could anybody [do this]?" Muhammad asked. "It has to be somebody with a sick mind or someone mentally disturbed. They had to been to kill a child that young and then to dismember them. It has to take a certain mindset … because that is just not normal."

Students from nearby Westinghouse High School attended the vigil. Bill Curry, the school's head basketball coach, brought six students to the vigil. Many of the students play in summer sports leagues at the park. The students are part of a youth anti-violence program run by Coaches United Against Violence.

The coach wanted his students to understand that leadership is not about being a basketball standout; rather, it's about community involvement. 

"What I hope that they get from this is that when you want community change, it is not just something you can talk about. You got to take action," said Curry, a father of three who lives a few blocks from the park.

"It hurts your heart," said Westinghouse student Corinthian Fields, 15, when asked about the child being found in the lagoon. "It is things like this when violence happens that we need to come together to show the city that we need to stop it."

"It's important to show love and support because that is what people need," added 17-year-old Westinghouse student Joshua Roberts. He said that that love and support extends to the child's mother and noted it is detrimental for anyone to lose a child — especially one so young.

"You always want to have their backs and show people that you care. Because nowadays you think that people don't care, but in all actuality they do," Roberts said.

Anyone with information on this crime is urged to call Area North Detective Division at 312-744-8261 or text tips to CRIMES (274637).

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