[ENOUGH] Fathers of Murder Victims Speak

John Westley and Jesse Purnell, Sr.

“I think it is not going to hit me, until I see him laying in that casket,” says Jesse Purnell Sr., who's 20-year-old son Jesse Jr. was killed on June 5th 2013, in the crime-addled Roseland neighborhood on Chicago's South Side, only two days before our interview. 

“I feel the hurt, but it is not really gonna come loose until I really see him in the casket, and know that he is actually really gone,” the 58-year-old continued, as he nervously massaged the head of a cane that he uses to walk, while we sat in the office of Ceasefire, one of the city's oldest anti-violence groups. 

“He was shot 4 times: twice in the back, once in the chest, and once in the leg. He made it to [Christ] hospital, his heart stopped, they brought him back, and while he was in surgery, he passed. I have never lost a child to violence on the streets before, so I am still in a daze” Jesse Sr. explained, with a blank look on his face, speaking slowly, as he tried to hold back the tears.

“He was a good kid, not in any gangs from what I know; he was a part of Ceasefire, as a volunteer,” Jesse Sr. explained as he tried to make sense of his son's murder. “No one is in custody yet, from what I know.”

Jesse Sr. continued, “He...mostly [kept] to himself, he came by to see me a lot when [his mother and I]  got separate...and he stayed with [her from the age of 5 or 6].”

When asked which high school Jesse Jr. attended, he replied, “Well that I don't know...Fenger, I heard his mother say Fenger.” However, the father and son relationship had gotten closer recently, “We talked, he came by to see me when we got older.... to my knowledge; somebody was jealous, wanted him to join an organization he did not want to be part of; after that, that's what happened.”

Having grown up in Roseland and the Morgan Park area, Jesse outlined what he believes is a a major part of the problem:

“Everybody has run loose, there's not structure in the immediate families...and they are just running loose; gang members ask you to join and they say we will be your support, we will help you, and this and that, and a lot of them join out of fear....Some of them join because they get picked on and they want somebody to help them when they get into a situation. ”

Jesse Sr. believes, “If everybody grabs their own kid and talks to them, everything will be better...but I don't think it is possible because at this stage and age, the parents are being their buddy and friend instead of being their parent. ”

His advice to fathers who have not lost children to violence? “Hold them close and tell them that you love them; that they have you to talk with them if they have concerns. Help them to solve problems.”

Sixty-one year old John Wesley lives in Englewood and is partially paralyzed after being shot in the head during a robbery back in 1980. He has also lost two sons: 35-year-old John Jr. to murder and 33-year-old Casino, who died from a diabetic coma. He explains the difference.

“It hurt to see Casino die of a diabetic coma, but it did not have the sting of John's murder. He was killed, and he did not have to get killed. The murder of your child is a special kind of hurt that no one but the parent can feel, and sometimes cannot even explain.”

In 2007, John Wesley, Jr. was murdered in Las Vegas while defending a woman in a domestic dispute. “I was hurt, when I found out about it. After I got through the hurt, I wanted to do something about it, but I did not want to take the law in my own hands, so I said let the law handle that.”

John Sr. offers advice for addressing violence: “You have to give the kids something to do; give them jobs, be like a big brother because they are being steered the wrong way. They wake up in the morning and they have [almost] nothing to eat, [almost] no clothes to wear, and they see someone with something so they go after it. If these young boys had something to do, things would be better.... These kids out there need help; there's a needs  get programs going, keeping them off these streets, these corners.

According to 42-year-old Samuel Muhammad, his son Devin Greer lived with him on the South Side. On October 20, 2012, the 21-year-old had gotten news that "A friend of his was shot on the West Side, so he was going to visit him in the hospital. While he was over there, he said that he will