The Killing All of Chicago Missed
Brian Paz, 6, died of starvation, yet he wasn’t counted as a homicide by police or the media. This is how we found his story.
Editor's Note: Following the publication of this story, an employee of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services told The Daily Beast that the agency has a pending investigation into Brian Paz's death. More information regarding the child's death is available in a January report from the agency's inspector general and has been added to the story.
CHICAGO — The body weighed 37 pounds and measured 43 inches.
It arrived at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office dressed in a gray T-shirt, blue swim trunks, and black socks, and with an endotracheal tube and various catheters.
It was a 6-year-old boy named Brian Paz.
Dr. Steven White of the medical examiner’s office reported a fracture in the boy’s right hand, bruising on his neck, a contusion on his lower back. The outline of his ribs could be seen, his abdomen was “soft and sunken.” White determined Paz had died of starvation and that this was a homicide.
Except to the Chicago Police Department, who has never referred to Paz as a homicide victim. Spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told The Daily Beast that their case on Paz is a “death investigation centered around some child neglect issues.”
Detectives would like to speak to the boy’s father, Guglielmi added, but the man fled the country following his son’s death. The father could be as far away as Colombia, from where he returned with an emaciated and dying son in late June 2014.
“We are working with federal partners” to find the father, Guglielmi said.
It’s unclear what the father would have to say for Chicago police to officially consider Paz’s death a homicide. A confession certainly wouldn’t hurt, but where do you draw the line between intentional neglect and bad parenting? One thing is clear: The medical evidence is irrefutable. Paz did not die by natural causes—far from it. The young boy starved to death.
Chicago police count 407 homicides in 2014 on its website, four short of the 411 noted in response to a Freedom of Information Act by The Daily Beast. Some observers count as many as 460 homicides and others as few as 427. The discrepancy between those numbers and the CPD’s 411 are more difficult to pin down, but the FOIA request also sought the names and other identifying information of those victims, making the task a bit easier.
The medical examiner’s office is the best place to begin when seeking the precise number of those killed in Chicago in a given year. The office performed 449 autopsies that were classified as homicides in 2014, a separate FOIA request revealed. That means in 2014 there were at least 30 deaths classified as a homicides that did not make the CPD’s official count.
Many of those who were listed as homicide victims by the medical examiner but not by police were victims of past gun violence. More than 2,000 people were shot in Chicago last year—a number that is shocking but also down significantly from the ravages of the crack era. Every year, men and women who were shot as long as a decade ago die as a result from these injuries. Tracking them down and checking their names off the list of homicides listed by the medical examiner but not police results in a tour of the city’s nursing homes. One by one, week by week, that’s what took up this past summer’s days.
Between the gunshot victims of years past and the accidental or justifiable deaths, the number kept getting smaller. I whittled the number down from more than two dozen, to 10, and eventually to one: Brian Paz.
If you count the child as a victim of homicide, Paz would have been the city’s 412th in 2014. Regardless of how one might classify the boy’s death, most of what we know about him comes from a three-page police report, and White’s six-page autopsy report.
No birth announcement. No obituary. No remembrance of him on the block where he died. Family members of Paz's mother claimed not to even know the child existed, according to a report from the inspector general of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
Brian Paz was a ghost even before he died.
The names of Paz’s mother and father are blacked out on the incident report provided by the police department. All we know is that both have disappeared since the July 2014 morning when the 6-year-old was taken to the hospital where he eventually died.
That previous night, the mother told police, Paz’s father brought the boy home saying he “could not take care of their son anymore,” an officer wrote. After living with the child for some time in Colombia, the father returned his son to mom, who became upset that Paz looked malnourished. She fed Paz a hot dog and fries, according to the report.
It was the child’s simple and very American last meal.
Just after midnight the mother checked on Paz and found him “foaming at the mouth and unresponsive,” the report states. Much of the information about Paz’s mother is up to speculation, but anyone who has read more than a few police reports can easily fill in the blanks.
“Mother related that she is a [redacted] patient and was admitted to Mercy Hospital a few weeks ago. She also stated that she is a [redacted] patient has been to St. Mary Elizabeth Clinic and Nazareth [redacted]. She related that she takes [redacted] prescriptions and [redacted]. Mother has visible scars on both arms and admitted to responding officers that she [redacted] herself. Mother related that she is [redacted] and lives [redacted] street…”
Police tried to stay in touch with the mother, but the phone number she gave detectives led to a person who had lost contact with the woman. While Paz’s mother may be somewhere on the streets of Chicago, his father is likely much farther away.
The incident report goes on to allude to other children of the mother’s who are in the custody of protective services; Brian Paz apparently wasn’t one of them.
His case began to turn cold for police at 4:55 a.m. July 1, 2014. That’s when Brian Paz went from being a young boy to something else.
“Body removal ordered,” an officer wrote.