Jonylah Watkins, Gunned Down in Chicago, Was a ‘Happy Baby’

Michael Daly on the 6-month-old shot to death Monday in Chicago, where gun violence is said to be down.

M. Spencer Green/AP

The sight of 29-year-old Jonathan Watkins changing his baby’s diaper in a minivan on a Chicago street early Monday afternoon might have given hope to those experts who believe that absent fathers are a primary contributor to urban violence.

The experts might have found more reason for hope in recent reports that gun violence in Chicago is down significantly from the same time last year.

Then a man holding an automatic pistol appeared from a passageway between two buildings. He began firing at Watkins as the father stood at the open passenger side door of the minivan, still crouched over 6-month-old Jonylah on the seat.

Bullets struck Watkins in the left side and right buttock and grazed his face. The baby had a total of five wounds as she was rushed to Comer Children’s Hospital.

That is the same University of Chicago facility where 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was taken after she was shot in January. Pendleton was gunned down only days after she performed with her school band at President Obama’s inauguration.

Just as the trauma team had sought in vain to save Hadiya, it now sought in vain to save tiny Jonylah. The baby’s death was announced by Rev. Corey Brooks, who served as a tearful spokesman for yet another grieving family.

Back in November, Brooks had just concluded the funeral for one victim of gun violence when another young man was shot to death on the church steps. The pastor then presided at the funeral for the second victim.

Now Brooks spoke of a death so horrific as to wring tears from a man who has seen gun death after gun death after gun death. He brushed aside assertions by the Chicago police that the baby’s father was affiliated with a gang.

“I think our focus needs to be on the fact that a 6-month-old baby died,” Brooks told reporters. “The city of Chicago should be outraged that in our city a 6-month-old baby could be shot and killed.”

The police also were saying that nobody had stepped forward to assist them in their investigation, the street edict against snitching apparently holding sway even when the victim was a baby. Brooks pledged to assist the police in any way he could.

“We’re going to help find who did this,” Brooks promised.

He later went to the hospital where the father was being treated for his wounds. The heart-torn mother, 20-year-old Judy Watkins, was there and Brooks led the parents in prayer.

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The father may indeed have a criminal record that includes gun possession, but he was not just another guy who walks away from his kids. Whatever Jonathan Watkins did or did not do at other times in his life, he had been in the midst of proving that a real tough guy is somebody who pitches in and changes his kid’s diapers when a punk came up behind him with a pistol.

And he had been grief-struck as any real father would be when his wife told him that their daughter had died.

“He loved this baby,” the mother said to a reporter. “He can’t believe it.”

The mother also visited the scene of the shooting, which is nine blocks from where Obama taught law school and a dozen more blocks from the Obama home. There was an impromptu shrine with a stuffed animal and a Mylar balloon, just as there had been when 6-year-old Aliyah Shell was shot to death in another Chicago neighborhood this same month last year.

In terms of the body count, this March is on track to show a marked improvement. But such statistics cease to have any meaning when the latest victim is so young she had not even been born last March.

“The baby I had was a happy baby,” the mother was reported saying.