The first of three children Alicia Jones has lost to violence was just 4 years old when a gang member threw a Molotov cocktail through the kitchen window of the family’s Chicago home.
“Mommy, I’m hot! Come get me!” little Curtis Jones cried out from the room where he was trapped by flames and smoke early that morning in 1994.
The mother was unable to reach Curtis, but she did get her 8-year-old daughter, Antoinette, out onto the roof. The girl balked at jumping, and the mother pushed her before she herself leapt to safety.
There was also her 4-month-old infant, James. Her nephew managed to lower the baby from a second-floor window.
The firefighters arrived and were able to reach Curtis, but he was beyond saving. The police subsequently arrested a 22-year-old gang member named Damen Price, who was sentenced to life in prison for murder.
“Damen is sorry,” the killer’s mother told the court.
Alicia Jones still had Antoinette and James. Antoinette was a mother’s dream: smart and hardworking, valedictorian at her high school, winner of a full college scholarship; in the meantime she was the 19-year-old manager of a busy KFC.
On a Sunday night in 2006 just minutes before closing, a man wearing a black bandanna burst into the KFC and scrambled over the counter, drawing a gun. Nobody offered any resistance as he seized $130 from the till. He was headed for the door when a worker shouted from the kitchen.
The man turned and fired in the direction of the voice. Antoinette happened to be in the line of fire. She was struck in the chest and crumpled to the floor, bleeding. A cousin who also worked there held her.
“[She] took a couple breaths and closed her eyes,” the cousin was later quoted as saying. “That was it. Dead.”
The mother was informed that a second child had been murdered.
“I’m so lost,” Alicia Jones was quoted saying. “After having lost my son, now this happens.”
A 46-year-old homeless man named Larry Barlow was charged with the killing. A murder conviction capped a criminal record that listed 31 prior arrests.
At the sentencing, the murdered girl’s father, Kevin Weeks, addressed the killer in court. He was guided by his daughter’s spirit. The words were as remarkable as those uttered in a Charleston courtroom by the families of the murdered nine last week.
“Antoinette would have forgiven you and so have I,” the father said. “May God have mercy on your soul.”
The surviving brother, James, was then just 12. He seems to have struggled to find his way, as might have been expected of someone who had lost both a brother and a sister to violence.
On Saturday afternoon, James was 21 and on parole for attempted burglary. He had been out on his bike, buying loose cigarettes, and had just returned to the family home when a van pulled up.
By one account, a man got out and said something. James just turned to the door leading inside. The man from the van produced a gun and began firing.
By chance, the mother, Alicia, happened to be emerging. James could have just sought to save himself.
Yet for all his troubles, James proved himself at this instant to be ultimately as decent as his murdered sister. He thought only of his mother. He died making himself a human shield.
“He took his body and put it on top of her body,” a maternal aunt, Dietra Luckett, later told the Chicago Sun-Times. “He covered her body.”
The mother was wounded nevertheless, but she survived after being rushed to the hospital and undergoing emergency surgery.
She repeated a question nobody wanted to answer.
“Where’s James? Where’s James?”