He was standing outside his house when two men walked up and shot him. Nahmar Holmes was hit multiple times in the chest at close range and died leaning against a bullet-riddled fence.
As friends and family gathered on the same block for a candlelight vigil to remember the man everyone called “Nemo,” just 28 hours after his murder, shots rang out from a gray van as it eased by the crowd of mourners.
The grim reality is nothing is sacrosanct in the drug fueled gang wars that have engulfed Chicago’s southside and westerly neighborhoods. The unwritten rules, once enforced by ranking gang leaders, said some things were simply off-limits. There are no recognized places of refuge now, no safe harbors—not even for a neighborhood gathered in prayer.
Today, there is no code against killing someone as they grieve at a wake, funeral service, or neighborhood vigil.
Some wept and others prayed in Chicago’s Brainerd neighborhood, just shy of the Rock Island Line tracks, Sunday night. Some in the small crowd held candles and a few brought flowers to memorialize 23-year-old Holmes.
The mourners quickly scattered as the first shots rang out, darting across neatly trimmed lawns, disappearing into the narrow gaps between the row of brick houses, and some taking cover under nearby cars parked near the corner of 89th and South Justine streets.
“I heard pop, pop, pop, pop,” Holmes’s stepfather, Pierre Curry, told CBS Chicago.
Shantell “KeeKee” Fleming, an 18-year-old girl, was killed that night and two teenagers were critically injured as the bullets rained down on the make-shift memorial. One of the victim’s was Holmes’s 17-year-old stepbrother.
They were among 14 people shot in just 12 hours—beginning early on Sunday evening and spanning into the wee hours of Monday morning—in a city thus far unable to stanch the tide of gun violence. In 2016, Chicago has recorded more than 2,000 gunshot victims— including 500 homicides. Dozens were shot in schoolyards, city parks, and other public places. Nykea Aldridge, the 32-year-old cousin of NBA superstar Dwyane Wade, was killed in a crossfire as she pushed her child in a stroller.
Authorities say Aldridge was not the intended target of her killer. Neither was Jonylah Watkins, a 6-month-old baby who was shot three years ago as her father changed her diaper in a minivan.
There was a time when such killings were rare. Dennis Haymon, an alleged former drug king who controlled a substantial cut of the St. Louis heroin and cocaine market throughout the 1970s, said it was customary to rule select places—and even people— inviolable. It was an especially violent era in St. Louis history, with at least three separate “sets” locked in a power-struggle that resulted in dozens dead and wounded.
Haymon himself was once targeted as he exited a bar called J.C.’s Get Up Joint. At least three gunmen from a rival gang climbed atop the roof and began shooting as Haymon and his entourage left the tavern.
But, they did not target children. Mothers and grandmothers were off-limits too. And shooting up a church or a public prayer vigil was forbidden.
Haymon, who was convicted on a second-degree murder charge in 1979 and did 25 years of a life sentence in Missouri and Arizona state penitentiaries, said, “We had a different philosophy. We considered ourselves businessmen.”
“I made it known that if you touched certain members of the community, there would be no safe place for you,” Haymon, now an ordained preacher and founder of a gang prevention program, told The Daily Beast.
Haymon recalled that he once gave an associate “some blasting caps” and wanted him to blow up the car of a St. Louis man. The underling tried, but failed because he did not know how to detonate the explosives. He later bragged to Haymon that the target’s mother was sitting in the vehicle as it was parked in a White Castle parking lot in North St. Louis and would’ve been killed too. Haymon was furious.
“You don’t do that,” Haymon said. “It was taboo.”
Haymon says he isn’t surprised about the shooting on South Justine Street. Chicago is no different from St. Louis, Detroit or other cities with significant gang-related violent crime. Things have changed over the last three decades, especially after crack cocaine began flooding cities in the early-to-mid-1980s and sparked an uptick in gang-related violence that would last more than a decade. The code, Haymon says, is gone now.
Rev. Corey Brooks, a well-known Chicago pastor, officiated a funeral in 2012 that was marred by violence. Two reputed gang members were shot, one fatally, as they left a memorial for James Holman. Churches used to be off-limits for gangbangers, Brooks told the Chicago Tribune then.
The shooting incident unfolded at St. Columbanus—the same church where mobster Al Capone’s wife and mother used to attend daily Mass.
“Now we are living at a day and time where these younger criminals have no regard for life or for street rules,” he said.