Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson considered her mother's Chicago home a haven, a place where she could find respite from Hollywood's occasionally brutal and superficial ways.
That South Side sanctuary, however, was violently shattered Friday when her mother and brother were gunned down during a domestic disturbance, law-enforcement officials said. The actress' 7-year-old nephew, Julian King, remained missing late Friday. Police have named her brother-in-law as a suspect in the slayings, though he has not been charged.
William Balfour, who married Hudson's sister in 2006, was believed to have abducted his stepson, but when he was arrested Friday night the boy was not with him, police said.
"I just can't fathom something like this happening," said Ethel Grisom, a longtime family friend. "The entire family were just real friendly people who enjoyed being together. This is going to be devastating for them."
About 3 p.m., a relative found Darnell Donerson, 57, fatally shot in her living room, law-enforcement officials said. The family member notified authorities, who then found Jason Hudson, 29, dead in a bedroom.
Neighbors reported hearing gunshots about 9 a.m. There were no signs of forced entry to the home.
Donerson and Jason Hudson had both been shot authorities said. Police said at least one of the victims had suffered defensive wounds.
The actress' sister, Julia, reported the boy missing from the home Friday afternoon, a police source said. Julian is described as 4-foot-11 and weighing 130 pounds. He has brown eyes and black hair and was last seen wearing a striped polo shirt and khaki pants.
Balfour's mother said her son and Julia Hudson were separated and that Donerson had thrown him out of the family home last winter. While standing outside the Wentworth Area police station Friday night with Rev. Jesse Jackson, Michele Balfour denied that her son had anything to do with the slayings.
Family members said she spoke with him Friday afternoon and he seemed as if he had been sleeping. There was no trace of panic or anxiety in his voice, they said.
"I didn't raise no murderer," Michele Balfour said. "He was not a child abductor. They have the wrong person."
She pleaded with Julian's kidnapper to return him to his mother.
"All I want is for whoever has Julia's son to bring him back," Michele Balfour said. "I'm begging them to return Julian back to my daughter-in-law."
Balfour grew up in Englewood and had been childhood friends with the Hudson siblings, his mother said. On his MySpace page, he discussed life with a famous sister-in-law.
"I might as well let you all know that Jennifer Hudson is my wife's sister," he wrote. "I'm proud of her and wish her nothing but the best in what she do but don't hit me up asking about her, other than that's it's on!"
Cook County court records show Balfour pleaded guilty in 1999 to attempted murder and vehicular hijacking. He also was convicted in a 1998 case of possession of a stolen motor vehicle, records show.
He was released from the Illinois River Correctional Center in Downstate Canton in May 2006 after serving 7 years in prison. He is still on probation, state records show.
On Friday afternoon, scores of onlookers flocked to the corner nearest the Hudson home. They pressed up against yellow police tape for a glimpse of the white house three doors down. Evidence technicians and police officers came and went, and the house's lights stayed on as the sky grew darker and rain squalls scattered the dwindling crowd.
Many neighbors' thoughts turned to Jennifer Hudson, who returned home to visit her mother as often as twice a month if her schedule allowed. A 1999 graduate of the Dunbar Vocational Career Academy, Hudson could walk through the Englewood neighborhood without anyone hassling her or following her with a camera.
"She never had no problems with fans stalking her," neighbor Vanessa Stanton said. "She didn't even need a bodyguard [though she did have one]. The whole neighborhood block would look out for her."
Hudson famously left her Burger King job to compete in the 2004 season of "American Idol." She finished seventh and endured harsh words from judge Simon Cowell, but her powerful, five-octave range helped win her the role of Effie White in the musical "Dreamgirls."
Her showstopping on-screen rendition of "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" led to widespread critical praise and the 2007 Academy Award for best supporting actress.
Upon winning the Oscar, she became emotional as she thanked her mother for traveling to Los Angeles to celebrate the nomination. Since then, her family and their large white home have been her foundation and could pull her back to Earth should her sense of self-importance skyrocket.
"My faith in God and my family -- they're very realistic and very normal, they're not into the whole limelight kind of thing, so when I go home to Chicago that's just another place that's home," she recently told the Associated Press. "I stand in line with everybody else, or, when I go home to my mom, I'm just Jennifer, [so she says], 'You get up and you take care of your own stuff.' And I love that; I don't like when people tell you everything you want to hear. I want to hear the truth, you know what I mean?"
Donerson mostly kept out of the spotlight. When asked if she'd like to attend a recent taping of Oprah Winfrey'sshow, on which Hudson would be publicizing "The Secret Life of Bees," Donerson declined. "She doesn't welcome the attention at all," Hudson recently told Australia's Sunday Telegraph. "She's the complete opposite of those stage mothers who say, 'Oh, that's my daughter, aren't I great?' She doesn't want the attention, while at the same time she's extremely proud and happy for me."
Jennifer Hudson was in the Tampa area at the time of the slayings, and planned to immediately head to Chicago. Her sister, Julia, met police at Wentworth Area headquarters late Friday.
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