Dijohn Childs

Age: 15
Date of Death: 1/30/07

Cop fatally shoots teen
Boy, 15, was in officer’s home in apparent burglary
January 31, 2007|By Tracy Dell’Angela and David Heinzmann, Tribune staff reporters.

A few days ago, Lester Childs told his 15-year-old son Dijohn he was running with the
wrong crowd. And as he sat in front of the TV that night, Childs started to weep,
convinced something bad was going to happen to one of his six adopted sons. And then it
Dijohn, a freshman at Fenger Academy High School, was shot to death in the home of an
off-duty Chicago police officer at about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. Police said the officer came
home from work and found Dijohn in an upstairs bedroom during what appeared to be a
“I honestly thought he was going to succeed faster than the others,” Childs said of
Dijohn, whom he took in a decade ago along with his older brother. “There was love and
a connection here,” Childs said of the boys, who were living in abandoned homes on the
West Side with a drug-addicted mother. “He was a good child, had his ups and down. But
he’s come a long way. A lot of people might not see it, but I do.”
Childs last saw his son an hour before his death, when they were both headed out the
door. Childs was rushing to an early-morning council meeting at the neighborhood
elementary school. Dijohn told his father he was catching the bus for his 8 a.m. math
class. But he ended up more than a mile away from home, in the opposite direction of
school, inside the police officer’s house in the 8600 block of South Bishop Street. The
officer, an 11-year veteran working an overnight shift on a public-transportation detail,
returned home to find his back door forced open, police spokeswoman Monique Bond
He entered, heard voices coming from the second floor and went upstairs with his gun
drawn. Still in uniform, the officer “announced his office” and confronted an intruder on
the second floor, Bond said. The teen reached into his pocket, and the officer opened fire
because he feared he was reaching for a weapon, Bond said. Police found a knife in the
boy’s possession, she said.Dijohn died at the scene of multiple gunshot wounds, and
police later determined that the shooting was justified, Bond said. Police identified him
from the school ID card he was carrying. Video equipment was missing from the house,
police said.
A 17-year-old classmate believed to be the second intruder escaped the house and later
showed up at Fenger, where police arrested him. Police were questioning the teen at
Calumet Area headquarters late Tuesday, Bond confirmed. The officer did not see the
second teen and told investigators he did not know either of them, Bond said.
Dijohn’s teachers and classmates could not reconcile the circumstances surrounding his
death with the teen they knew as quiet and sweet-natured. He was attending Fenger
because he had struggled to meet his 8th-grade requirements but was too old to stay in his
grade school, Mahalia Jackson Elementary in Auburn-Gresham. “He started the year
trying to be tough, but he just couldn’t be mean to people,” said Fenger English teacher
Helen Schiller. “He was really a big part of my classroom, with a real head on his
shoulders. If he could have overcome the peer pressure, he would have done really well.”
Schiller pulled out a manila folder filled with Dijohn’s writing Tuesday afternoon. The
front was decorated with drawings of his favorite things: a football, rolls of money, the
flashy rims and grille of a car he hoped to own. He penned his goals on the cover: “To
finish high school, go to college, have a good paying job and great education.” He was
polite in class and liked to sit with the girls, with whom he would flirt and whose
influence helped him stay out of trouble, his teacher said. He earned a B in English
because he worked hard and showed signs of creativity. He wrote that his favorite season
was fall because he could earn money raking leaves. When asked his opinion on how to
make his neighborhood safer, he wrote that there should be more activities to keep teens
busy with “good choices” and prevent them from dropping out and “starting a thug life.”
In his folder, Dijohn saved a poem called “Childhoods,” which he wrote in a neat hand
using vibrant colors.
While I was young, playing, laughing, doing bad stuff and thinking it was fun. But now
I’m grown, it’s a new song. I’m not acting but in my own zone. So it was much like
walking through hot coal, watching other kids walking cool steps and with gold.
While school officials learned of Dijohn’s death Tuesday morning, his classmates didn’t
know about the shooting until a counselor told them after lunch. One classmate hid his
face in an open locker, his shoulders shaking with sobs. Another friend, Pierre Toney,
rushed into the hall with tears streaming down his face. He slammed his fist into a locker.
“This is the third [person] I know who has died this week,” Pierre said, his voice rising in
anguish. “I was just looking for him at lunch, but I couldn’t find him. This doesn’t feel
real. This doesn’t sound like Dijohn.”
The shooting still doesn’t feel real to Dijohn’s father, who learned of his son’s death at
12:30 p.m. when contacted by a reporter. Detectives visited Childs’ home in the 9000
block of South Morgan Street at about 3:15 p.m., hours after students and staff started
mourning the loss. Police showed him a photo from the morgue. Childs nodded, bit his
lip and started crying. Childs, a 63-year-old single father, said Dijohn and his 17-year-old
brother were the first children he adopted. He knew the boys had been deeply hurt by the
trauma in their young lives, neglected by their mother and having witnessed their oldest
sister run over by a truck.
Childs, who is disabled and earns extra money sewing, said he took these boys in, as he
did the later ones, because he felt blessed and “wanted to help in some way.” He
encouraged Dijohn and his adopted brothers to attend a Pentecostal church with his
neighbor, Ida Mae Stanford, whom Dijohn cherished as a surrogate grandmother.
“I did the best I could by him,” Childs said. “I didn’t know what pressure he had on him.
Dijohn just held everything in.”