CHICAGO – Family members of a 13-year-old boy who was fatally shot by a Chicago police officer announced plans Wednesday to build a home in rural Wisconsin where at-risk boys could go to escape the dangers of the city streets.
Adam Toledo's mother stood in front of a mural of her son that was recently painted in the Little Village neighborhood where he was killed on March 29. She lamented that while she could not be with her son Wednesday on what would have been his 14th birthday, she might be able to help save others like him.
“What I really want is to have Adam back, and we can't do that,” Betty Toledo wrote in a speech that was read by someone else because she was too emotional to speak. “We can try to help other families protect their sons from the temptations that took Adam into the street that night, the night he was killed.”
The family also alluded to the depiction of Adam's life that has been part of the narrative since shortly after his death when Mayor Lori Lightfoot seemed to suggest that the boy was involved with gangs.
“Gangs are preying on our most vulnerable, corrupting these young minds with promises of familia and lucre,” she said during a press conference in which she demanded the police find out how the boy got the gun that police say he was carrying until just before he was shot.
The shooting garnered national attention and brought new scrutiny to the Chicago Police Department's use-of-force policy, particularly after the release of the video that shows the boy wasn't holding a gun the instant he was shot. On Wednesday, the department announced it was implementing a new policy that significantly limits when officers are authorized to chase suspects on foot.
But it was the boy's short life that Toledo's family and others focused on Wednesday. While Lightfoot and others have suggested that the boy was drawn to gangs, the family also wanted it known that he was a curious little boy who lived to play with his younger brother, loved animals, made jokes and told his mother not to worry.
“He was a little kid, he made one mistake, and everyone is just judging him and assuming things from the last few moments and minutes of his life,” said Esmeralda Toledo, the boy's 24-year-old sister. Nobody, she said, “is deserving the way he died or the bad, negative things being said about him.”
The family's attorney, Joel Hirschhorn, said that Wednesday's announcement had to be delayed a short time because the artist and the family wanted to paint over what “some cowardly, evil person” had scrawled on the mural.
Hirschhorn said donations have already come in, and he has signed a contract to buy about 71 acres in Potosi in southwestern Wisconsin, including a small barn, a facility boys can sleep in, and land to grow crops and raise livestock. Modeled after Boys Farm in South Carolina, Hirschhorn said the plan is to “take these marginalized, at-risk young boys out of danger, where gangs and guns and violence pervades” and put them into a safe environment where they can learn about farming and “work as a team.”
Authorities have said that a gun detection alerted police to a spot where a gun had been fired several times. When they arrived, an officer spotted the boy and the man they later said had fired the weapon, and chased them.
They said Toledo, who had apparently been given the gun by the man after he fired it, ran into an alley. Body camera video showed a portion of the foot chase, and the instant when Officer Eric Stillman shot Toledo in the chest less than a second after he either dropped or tossed the gun aside.
The Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), which reviews police shootings, is continuing its investigation. On Wednesday, spokesman Ephraim Eaddy said he could not comment on the investigation and that no recommendation about Stillman has been made. Stillman was placed on desk duty and in what Eaddy said was an unusual move, the board recommended that the time Stillman remain on desk duty be extended 30 days.