Family holds vigil for two killed within a few months of each other in Austin

May 22, 2010
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Denise Brown-Thomas (on right) hopes someone will come forward with information about her husband's murder. (Photo/Kelsey Duckett)

Many of the nearly 40 people gathered at the corner of St. Louis Avenue and Franklin Boulevard Saturday morning wore shirts with pictures of Samuel Elam-Thomas, who was gunned down in January. His son Samuel Isiah Thomas was gunned down two months later on the same block.

The family joined with friends and the Cook County Crime Stoppers in going door-to-door in search of information about Elam-Thomas’ murder.

Elam-Thomas, 41, was shot and killed Jan. 22, outside his West Side residence, and his wife, Denise Brown-Thomas, remains confident that someone in the community has information about her late husband’s murder.

Denise Brown-Thomas (on right) hopes someone will come forward with information about her husband's murder. (Photo/Kelsey Duckett)

“I want the people of this neighborhood to know that someone took my husband, a big part of my life away,” she said. “I am very confident that someone in this area knows something, and I won’t stop fighting until I find the person who needlessly killed him.”

George McAdams of Cook County Crime Stoppers said someone has information and needs to be given the opportunity to share it.

“We know people have information, but often times they are scared to come forward or go to the police,” McAdams said. “So the goal is to go door-to-door and hand out these 1,200 flyers and talk to every person in the neighborhood to see if they heard or saw anything.”

Elam-Thomas died just two months before his son, Isiah Thomas, 19, was shot and killed in his front yard. On May 2, Chicago Police arrested and charged Deonta Wallace, 20, who was out on parole, for Isiah Thomas’ death.

Catherine Elam-Thomas, mother of Elam-Thomas and grandmother of Isiah Thomas, fought back tears when she described the toll the deaths have taken on her family.

“This has changed my life, and I don’t even have the words to describe how difficult this has been,” she said. “I go to sleep crying, I wake up crying. But I know I just need to be out here, on the streets, and find out who did this, who killed my son.”

Elam-Thomas said she doesn’t think an arrest will give her any peace but said knowing the killer won’t be able to ruin another family’s lives is what keeps her going some days.

“When the man who killed my grandson was arrested, I didn’t feel much relief because it didn’t bring my grandson back,” she said. “Whoever did this killed my only child, they killed my baby. I don’t think the pain will ever go away.”

Willie Williams Jr., founder of Willie Williams III Youth Foundation, said it’s important for the community to rally together.

Williams’ son Williams III was gunned down four years ago outside a Ford City movie theatre on Chicago’s Southwest Side, and it took more than three years to find the shooter.

“This is bigger than all of us, and until someone is arrested, it is impossible for families to go on,” he said. “The Austin community and the city of Chicago need to rally together and say ‘enough is enough.’ It is time we take back our streets.”

Williams spends his time fighting for families who have lost children to gun violence. He speaks in schools, and his foundation works with local youth to find them jobs and get them off the streets.

“This is a serious problem in our community,” he said. “It’s like just like cancer, but the cure is people. We need to take our communities back and fight for our children.”

Elam-Thomas said once she finally sees justice brought in her son’s murder, she plans to leave Chicago for Memphis. Until then, she hopes to rally the Austin community to take back their neighborhood before more lives are lost to gun violence.

“We need to take control of this situation; it is ruling our streets and our lives,” she said. “We need to come together as a community, and this is something I want to be a part of. But eventually I am going to leave. I am through with Chicago. It’s taken too much away from me.”

Crime Stoppers’ McAdams was impressed with Saturday’s turnout. After an hour of knocking on doors, he said the family and the community are taking the right steps toward finding whoever is responsible for Elam-Thomas’ death.

The family ended the day on the same hope they started with, saying they won’t give up.

“This has been a miserable and horrible time for our family,” Brown-Thomas said. “But we won’t stop. I refuse to give up, even if I have to do it by myself. I want answers. I need to know who killed my husband and why.”

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