Basketball posters cover the walls of Tony McCoy Jr.’s room. Trophies from the sports teams he played on line the
shelves, and an unorganized collection of CDs can be found throughout the room. There are enough gym shoes to equip an entire basketball team.
It looks like any other teenage boy’s bedroom, except there’s a wooden cross with his name on it memorializing the 20-year-old’s death.
McCoy Jr. was gunned down steps away from his family’s apartment July 16, 2011 – less than three weeks before he was to attend a downstate college.
The young man who had a curfew and no tattoos was shot in broad daylight in front of his Kenwood apartment complex, leaving the neighborhood – filled with large, expensive houses that includes President Barack Obama’s home – stunned.
Since then, Sandra Jefferson, McCoy Jr.’s mother, has suffered a series of health problems that have hospitalized her nearly half a dozen times. Jefferson even contemplated suicide and hasn’t been able to sleep for more than five hours a night.
“Ever since he was killed, I have insomnia,” Jefferson says. “I can’t fall asleep until five or six in the morning.”
She spends most of her time trying to find justice for her son.
His father, a park supervisor, has become a part-time detective trying to piece together how this could have happened to his son – the son he bonded with over their love for basketball and the neighborhood kids.
For two summers, McCoy Jr. worked as a junior counselor for the Chicago Park District. He supervised children in an after-school programs and taught them basketball.
The first-and second-place trophies collecting dust in McCoy Jr.’s untouched room qualified him to be a coach, says his dad. When he wasn’t painting or writing lyrics, he was helping his father work with the local kids.
It was their connection to the playground that has helped Tony McCoy Sr.’s start to figure out what happened.
“The pieces started coming together when I was at work,” says McCoy Sr.
His son was walking home on that hot July day with his friend when an unidentified person jumped out of a car and began shooting. As the shots rang out, his friend ran, one witness ducked for cover and McCoy Jr. got hit, falling to the ground where he died.
McCoy Sr. says phone calls started coming in almost immediately from people telling him the shooting could be traced to trash talking during a basketball game a month earlier.
As more people called to say what they knew, the story started to become clearer, McCoy Sr. says.
During a pick-up game at Houston Playground Park, McCoy Jr.’s competitiveness led him to engage in typical trash talking with the opposing team.
The small, common jabs during the game turned into a shoving contest over a girl before the tension could be defused. McCoy Sr. says the people who told him this did not know who the girl was, but they say his son wasn’t part of the physical tussle.
“Hooping with Tony, you knew it was going to be a battle,” says William Holcomb, who was friends with McCoy Jr. since the second grade. “I never knew of anyone that wanted to hurt him because of it.”
Candace Nash, McCoy Jr.’s girlfriend, provided another clue.
She told her boyfriend’s parents that McCoy Jr. got a Facebook message a few days after the trash talking from a girl warning him someone was going to come after him. Nash says he didn’t think much of it, and McCoy never told her who the girl was.
As the arguing continued on Facebook, the alleged shooter – known as a local bully and who was not at the basketball game – got involved, says McCoy Sr.
Former neighbor Pamela Osborne witnessed the shooting.
Osborne says she was walking to the east entrance of the apartment building with her young son behind McCoy Jr. and his friend, who were a few steps ahead.
A car drove up and a young man stepped out, she says.
“He started to shoot. When [McCoy Jr.] fell to the ground, the young guy who shot him came and stood over him and shot him again.”
Osborne says she didn’t see who the killer was; she was busying protecting her son. They both jumped into a bush to escape the bullets.
McCoy Jr.’s mother says she knows who the killer is, and so do the police, but Chicago’s infamous code of silence hinders the case.
“Everybody knows who murdered my son,” Jefferson says. “The Chicago police know who murdered my son. They admitted it to me.”
She says officers have told her they know who did it, but if nobody points out the shooter, no one can be charged.
Commander Richard Elmer, who was working the case before he retired last year, said the community hearsay about the killer doesn’t help officers.
“Everyone had an idea who [the shooter] may be, but who can prove that?” Elmer says.
Adam Collins, director of News Affairs for the Chicago Police Department, said the department is not responsible for bringing charges, even if they know who the murderer is.
“The decision to bring charges in any case – murder or otherwise – is made by the state’s attorney’s office,” Collins wrote in an e-mail. “If they do not feel as though they can meet their burden of proof to get a conviction, regardless of whether or not we know who committed the crime, we will continue to seek additional evidence that will help bring an offender to justice.”
There is still a $5,000 reward for the capture of the killer. McCoy Jr. – the only son of McCoy Sr. and Jefferson. He would have turned 22 on May 3.
“He was going to be somebody,” Jefferson says. “He already was somebody.”
This story is part of a week-long series about homicides in Chicago. ChicagoTalks, a news outlet operated by Columbia College’s Journalism Department, undertook a semester-long investigation of the topic funded with a grant from The Chicago Community Trust. ChicagoTalks is publishing additional stories throughout the week. If you have questions or comments, please e-mail project editor Suzanne McBride at email@example.com.
Read more from this series:
- Family seeks answers after 8th grader’s murder
- Family, friends of murdered Uptown businesswoman say they have been left in the dark
- Killer on the line
- Lonely anniversary
- For some, the grieving never ends
- Families say silence the norm after Chicago homicides
- Homicide victim’s mother sees progress in Englewood
- Giving up on justice
- Families question support after loved ones’ killings
- Unsolved homicide not forgotten
- Final call to a friend