At around 1:25 p.m. on April 7, inside of Corcoran Grocery, on the corner of Central Avenue and West Corcoran Place, a native West Sider was asked about his experience growing up in Austin.
“I’ve been here all of my life,” he said. “I grew up here.”
Was he proud of being from the West Side?
“Yeah. I’ve made it here all my life,” he said. “This is all I know. I moved away and wound up coming back. Back to my roots.”
As this conversation was happening, a young, African American man who appeared to be in his 20s came inside of the store, shopped for a few minutes and left out, music blaring in his wake.
How has the neighborhood changed over time?
“It’s changed a lot,” the older man said. “Different things done changed. I was here before cell phones and computers and cameras and all that stuff. Social media changed the whole area.”
The man didn’t appear entirely comfortable with this random moment of introspection. He had been thrown off by the request for an interview, which started with President Trump, about whom, the man said, he didn’t have an opinion.
So he was asked to talk about life on the West Side. Although uncomfortable, he labored for a language to articulate his home and what it means to be born and to live in Austin. And to live through it.
He wanted to have the words and seemed to be fighting to lift his thoughts above the gravity of the mundane — a woman sitting by a window, near an ice cream freezer, waiting on someone to ask her to scoop out a serving; the infectious bump of the rapper and producer Future still decibels away, on the other side of Corcoran’s concrete walls.
What made him return home after having left so many years ago?
Before the Austin native could answer, a barrage of bullets — at least eight fired in quick, random succession, like kernels popping — assaulted the senses.
Within microseconds, bodies inside of the store were crouched, shaking, prostrate, standing paralytic. Several seconds later, the piercing sound stopped and, after a moment of silence, someone near the store’s entrance asked, “Am I shot?”
“If you was shot, you wouldn’t be walking!?” said someone else, before a voice further in the distance, several feet south of Corcoran’s walls, yelled, “B.J. shot!
“S—t! No! No! No!”
A crowd of at least a dozen people gathered around the 20-something-year old who had not long ago walked out of Corcoran’s, taking the sound of his music with him.
Apparently, the shooting started as soon as he stepped out of the store, with the shooter — assuming there was only one — aiming at B.J. as he ran south on Central Avenue. Not long into his escape, the young man dropped on the sidewalk, his body limp near a CTA bus stop, where shards of glass met blood.
He was not yet dead. He was gasping for air, fighting as he lay still. On the ground, he may have heard sounds, textured with dread, coming from a shrill chorus crowded around his body — shouts to stay awake, to pray.
“Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” one woman shouted.
“You see what the f—k we go through? Every f—ing day!” said another woman to no one in particular, and to everyone, as she walked away from the scene.
“Talk to him! Talk to him!” instructed a man who, along with several other bystanders, hovered over the victim. B.J. may have heard the blare of traffic, police sirens, car horns, the admonition of cops clearing the scene — the gravity of the mundane.
The police arrived shouting and mad, bulldozing their way through the crowd, yelling commands, taping off the perimeter, turning people who claimed to have known the young man, and to have seen the shooting, into mumbling spectators.
The first-responding officers seemed less focused on shoving potential witnesses away than asking about details of the shooting. What was seen and heard and experienced came out piecemeal and almost by happenstance.
One officer asked if anyone had seen anything, but his heart didn’t seem into the question. The inquiry fell just as soon as it was brought up.
There was more passion in the confrontations between the civilians and the cops, who did not still the chaos as much as shift its focus. So the scene of a daytime shooting and, as later news reports would have it, a murder (of one young black man by, it is likely, another), became an arena pregnant with the possibility of another conflagration of violence.
An African American man, a few dozen feet away from B.J., had apparently hauled off and punched another African American man before being restrained by an officer. After it happened, another officer rushed over to where B.J. lay, yelling something that was indecipherable.
Two bodies now lay in the street.
Ruby Humphrey, 56, said that she was standing next to B.J., near the entrance to Corcoran’s, when the shots rang out. Witnesses say the gunfire came from a gray or white van. Humphrey confirmed that the shots were coming from a vehicle, but said that she couldn’t identify it.
Humphrey may have been the last person to speak with the victim, who she said was nicknamed “B.J.” by those in the neighborhood. No one could give his real name.
“I said, ‘Where you living at now? You used to live over here.’ Soon as I walked away, they was shooting,” she said. “They shot all in that doorway [of Corcoran’s]. They shot in the store. I haven’t been in nothing like this before.”
Humphrey, who said that she’s homeless, added that she didn’t know B.J. to have been involved with gangs, “but you know how these people are around here. They try to force you into that stuff.”
According to a report published hours after the shooting by the Chicago Tribune, “four other men and a teenage boy” were shot along with B.J. They were taken to West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park, where they’re in good condition.
B.J. was rushed to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, where he was pronounced dead. A relative told Chicago Tribune reporters that the victim was 23 and that “Facebook killed him.”
“[T]hat’s what did it,” the man said. “They boxing over Facebook. It’s so stupid.”
The cousin told the reporters that B.J. was seen by people inside of a “gray vehicle traveling east” as the young man walked out of Corcoran’s. The cousin said that the other people who were wounded were bystanders. They ranged in age from 17 to 46 and were all shot in the lower extremities.
Police found at least 27 shell casings at the scene. They were marked by “little yellow police cards,” Chicago Tribune reporters wrote.
Before those markers were placed, police had urged bystanders not to accidentally kick any of the casings as they were backing away from B.J.’s body.
“Papa you ain’t got no pennies do you?” Humphrey asked a reporter as she was walking across the street in order to get outside of the taped-off crime scene. When she got to the “L” station entrance, she was asked whether or not she would be willing to be photographed.
“What’s this for?” she said while striking a pose.
Someone asked her about the vehicle.
“I didn’t see it,” Humphrey said. “Baby, I was so busy running I hit the ground. God take care of us fools.”