Tyshawn Lee’s death was not an accident.

The fourth grader with soulful eyes and a basketball constantly in his arms was on his way to his grandmother’s house when someone lured him into an alley on Chicago’s South Side.

There a scuffle, maybe an argument, then a burst of gunfire and Tyshawn was shot in the head and back. When James Brown, who was walking nearby, came running over 30 seconds later, all he saw was the boy’s small body lying in a pool of blood, the basketball he always carried lolled on the ground nearby.

“Wasn’t no cars,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “Nobody around.”

Whoever the vanished gunman — or gunmen — were, they killed 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee intentionally on Monday afternoon, Chicago police say. In an incident Superintendent Garry McCarthy called “the most abhorrent, cowardly, unfathomable crime” of his 35 years in policing, the child was targeted because of his father’s gang ties.

At a press conference Thursday, McCarthy said that Tyshawn’s slaying was the latest in a series of gang-related killings stretching back to this August. Since May, killings in the city have escalated, the Chicago Tribune reported; the past three months in particular have been some of the deadliest on record.

But even in a city that has seen more homicides than sunrises this year, the 9-year-old’s killing was its own kind of horror.

“This is a different level,” McCarthy said. “These are non-combatants now being assassinated.”

On Thursday, McCarthy said that police were “pretty certain” about the circumstances of Tyshawn’s death, including the gangs involved, but he would not go into detail.

“We don’t want those individuals to know what we know,” he told reporters.

Citing law enforcement sources, the Chicago Tribune reported that the conflict that has roiled the city since the summer involves two decades-old rival Chicago gangs: the Gangster Disciples and the Black P Stones. Members of each gang were shot and killed last month, as was the female companion of one gang member. Another member’s mother was wounded.

Police believe that the 9-year-old’s death stems from his father’s involvement in this conflict, and that the father, 25-year-old Pierre Stokes, might know who shot the boy.

But when a reporter asked if Stokes was cooperating with the investigation, McCarthy responded with a curt, “No.”

“As a matter of fact, let me put it this way,” he continued, “We’ve tried to interview him at least twice. I can’t even tell you what he said because you can’t say it on TV, but he made it emphatically clear that he’s not cooperating.”

Stokes disputed authorities’ characterization of him. He told the Chicago Tribune that no one would have a motive to hurt him. And if they did, they wouldn’t need to target his child — “I’m not hard to find,” Stokes said

The Tribune reported that Stokes is a member of a faction of the Gangster Disciples. Court records show that Stokes pleaded guilty to armed robbery in 2011 and spent several years in prison, according to the paper. Last summer, while on parole, he was charged with unlawful use of a weapon, a felony. Legal proceedings related to that charge are still underway, the Tribune reported, and Stokes has pleaded not guilty.

In interviews on Thursday, Stokes would not talk about whether he is a gang member, according to the Associated Press, but he voiced frustration that police have spent time questioning him rather than pursuing the people who shot his son.

“They’re more worried about me. Why are you worried about me, not the killer?” Stokes told the Tribune. “I’m not the killer. Worry about the killer.”

Like many families in the neighborhood, the violence that has plagued the city weighed on Tyshawn’s parents. They didn’t even let Tyshawn, who lived with his mother, go trick-or-treating for Halloween this year. Instead, Stokes bought his son a bag of candy from the dollar store.

Stokes said he feels guilty that he wasn’t at Tyshawn’s side when the little boy was walking home from school on Monday.

“To be honest, I feel bad,” he told the Tribune. “I feel like it’s my fault.”

According to CBS, 391 people have been killed in Chicago this year — an 18 percent increase from this time a year ago. Forty of the victims were children.

In October, 15-year-old Kiyon Evans died of gunshot wounds to the legs and torso, according to Homicide Watch Chicago, a project of the Chicago Sun-Times. In September, 14-year-old Tyjuan Poindexter was killed and another teenage boy injured in a drive-by shooting.

On July 4, during a bloody holiday weekend that saw 10 killed and 55 others wounded in gun violence, 7-year-old Amari Brown was struck and killed by a bullet intended for his father, according to Homicide Watch.

Still the intentional killing of a child, in public, in the middle of the afternoon represented an unheard-of new low to the violence.

“This wasn’t a drive-by, this was not a spray of bullets,” said Rev. Michael Pfleger, an activist priest at St. Sabina Catholic Church in Tyshawn’s neighborhood of Auburn-Gresham. Speaking at the press conference Thursday, his tone harsh, he said “A baby was executed. A baby was assassinated right behind us in this alley.”

Tyshawn was a fourth grader at Joplin Elementary, a small public school just blocks from the alley where he was killed. He loved basketball and video games, his mother said, and had an unusually weighty sense of responsibility for a 9-year-old child.

He would say, “Mom, when I get older I’m going to take care of you, I’m going to get you a new house,” Karla Lee recalled to the Chicago Tribune. “He was going to make me real proud of him. I believed every word my son said.”

Lee’s partner and Tyshawn’s stepfather, James Lee, remembered the boy as lively and mischievous. He used to light up every time Lee took him to get his haircut. You’d have to chase him up and down the alley to get him to do his homework. He was, his relatives all said, a good kid. Far too good for this.

Now the Lees, authorities and community activists are calling on neighbors to mete out some measure of justice for Tyshawn by helping track down his killers. Officials have offered a $35,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest, according to ABC. Two churches are also offering rewards for information.

“I just want justice for my son,” Lee told the news station. “Whoever knows anything, please let the police know. Please. He was only nine. He didn’t deserve this.”

At the press conference Thursday, McCarthy acknowledged that many in the area might be afraid to step forward with information about the conflict that led to Tyshawn’s shooting. If even children are targets, what’s to prevent the gunmen from going after someone who helped with their arrest?

But, he said, law enforcement would help keep informants safe. And surely neighbors were as eager to see an end to this violence as he was: “Everybody’s sick,” McCarthy said. “Everybody’s disgusted.”

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