Betty Howard had left her car’s hazard lights on Thursday evening as she ran into drop off some paperwork at her second job at a real estate office along a busy commercial stretch in the Chatham neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.
She was chatting with co-workers when shots rang out in the 700 block of East 79th Street in what police called a possible dispute between two factions of the Gangster Disciples street gang whose boundary is nearby Cottage Grove Avenue.
Several bullets tore through a wall of the realty office, one grazing the stomach of co-worker Louis Hardy, 58, who dived to the floor before noticing Howard lying nearby. Her eyes were wide open and she had a look of fear on her face, Hardy said. She had been shot in the head, a wound that would prove fatal.
Hardy knelt beside her and tried to reassure her. “Hold on. Help is on the way,” he said he told her.
A third individual, a 23-year-old woman, was shot in the hand as she walked her Shih Tzu dog outside. She collapsed at the corner before realizing she had been shot.
The shooting was another shocking example of the random violence that plagues pockets of the South and West sides. Howard, 58, was a respected special education teacher at one of Chicago’s highest-achieving public schools and the mother of two adult children. Her loss was mourned at Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy and by neighbors, relatives, friends and colleagues.
She was among 14 people shot, three fatally, in Chicago on Thursday.
Howard died on the same day her brother was marking his 13th anniversary as a Chicago cop. He patrols the Morgan Park police district, which stretches from the safe neighborhoods of Beverly and Mount Greenwood to far more dangerous parts of West Pullman and Roseland, the Far South Side neighborhood where Howard taught.
“I deal with it all day, every day because I do work the streets and I’m aware of what’s going on …” Orlando Long told reporters outside Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where his sister was pronounced dead Thursday night. “But it just has to stop.”
On Friday Howard’s death hit hard at Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy. Teachers and students held a small memorial on campus, releasing balloons in her honor. They spent part of the day comforting each other, and special support services were provided to those who needed counseling to deal with their grief.
Howard had been a CPS teacher for almost 20 years. She had become a special education instructor beginning in 1999, working at three different elementary schools over the years. She joined Brooks in 2007.
Howard had earned a reputation as a teacher willing to take on a heavy caseload of work while maintaining a sunny disposition, D'Andre Weaver, the school’s principal, said in an interview in his office.
“She did it all,” he said. “She was a very kind woman, very sweet and always willing to go the extra mile. She was exactly what you want in a teacher - willing to work hard and not complain about it.”
Howard not only taught in the classroom but also regularly went to the homes of some special ed students to work with them one on one.
“She wore so many hats here, so she came in contact with a lot of our students,” Weaver said. “We are all impacted. We all feel it.”
Howard also worked for Kale Realty at a location closer to downtown, but she often stopped at the business’ Chatham office to catch up on paperwork or use the copier or fax machine.
On Friday the office was shuttered, but five small bullet holes could be seen on a wall of the corner business along Evans Avenue.
The shooting was all the more startling to James Brigham, 63, a lifelong Chatham resident, because Chicago police have stepped up foot patrols in the area with rookie cops and officers working overtime over the last year.
Monica Tyner, who runs a daycare operation nearby, said she’s lost business because parents are concerned about violence in the neighborhood.
“I don't want her to get scared and take her baby out of my daycare,” said Tyner, 36, as she stood next to Britteny Ibotoye, who had just picked up her 1-year-old daughter from Tyner’s business. “They're just spraying bullets. It's broad daylight.”
Brittany Williams, who lives nearby, was walking her dog, Lauren, down the block when the shots rang out at about 5:30 p.m. and she dropped to the sidewalk. Moments before, she had bent over to remove some grass from her dog’s face. She thinks the move may have saved her life after a stray bullet struck her on her left hand. Apparently in shock, Williams ran to the corner and collapsed.
Williams’ lease happens to be running out Saturday and she is contemplating moving to another neighborhood.
“I’m trying to see if I can get some help to move because I really don’t even want to stay there another night,” said Williams, a bandage wrapped around her hand. “I don’t want to keep putting myself in that situation..I felt that this was my warning, like ‘get outta there.’”
Tribune reporters Peter Nickeas and Carlos Sadovi contributed.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun