By Lolly Bowean and Annie Sweeney
8:23 AM EDT, April 24, 2013
Timika Rutledge-German finally accepted there was only so much she could do to protect her 15-year-old son from Chicago's dangerous streets, but when he called for her help, she knew she would go.
On Monday night, her son phoned her for a ride home.
Minutes later, as he lay dying on the South Side from a bullet wound to the back, her son called out for her one more time.
"Call my mama," her son, Cornelius German, cried out, she later learned. But she could not help him this time. Her son was pronounced dead at 12:50 a.m. Tuesday at the Cook County medical examiner's office, and no one was in custody for his homicide Tuesday evening.
While her son had trouble in school and had friends who were gang members, she said, he was still just a boy.
"He's still a 15-year-old kid," she said. "He was still a baby. He didn't deserve this."
German, nicknamed "Cornbread," was killed just four blocks from President Barack Obama's Kenwood home, echoing the slaying of Hadiya Pendleton, an honors student, also 15, whose shooting in January in Harsh Park, about a mile north of the president's residence, brought international attention to Chicago's gun violence.
His mother admitted that her son rebelled against authority and hung out with gang members, but she was unhappy that Chicago police had so quickly called her son a gang member.
"This is not Hadiya Pendleton. This is Cornelius German, a boy affiliated with gangs," Rutledge-German said. "Police can't say he was a known gangbanger. He hung with everybody because they were his homies."
Police officials said the boy had "documented gang ties." He also had a juvenile record that included arrests for armed robbery and findings of guilt for theft and battery, according to law enforcement sources.
German grew up around Chicago's South Side and lived for several years just blocks from the Obama family home, his mother said and records show. But even after his family moved farther west into the Back of the Yards neighborhood, he would often return to his old stomping grounds to hang with friends, as he did Monday night, his mother said.
The teen was slain just a short walk from the Secret Service-protected Obama house, but in a vastly different neighborhood still troubled by crime. The location of the shooting — the narrow 5000 block of South Evans Avenue — is made up of modest brick multiunit buildings and is directly across the street from Washington Park.
On Monday night, Cornelius called his parents and asked them to come pick him up at a Walgreens at East 50th Place and South Cottage Grove Avenue. But when the couple arrived at 9:38 p.m. he was nowhere to be seen, so his mother called his cellphone and his friend's phone, she said. He asked them to pick him up at a friend's nearby home, saying he had been too fearful to walk to the bus stop because of recent gang troubles there, she said.
Rutledge-German said she and her husband, Ronald German, eased into a parking space on South Evans Avenue and honked their horn for their son to come out. As they sat in the darkness, they saw crowds of young men walking away and police blocking off an area, she said.
She asked an officer: "What's going on?"
"A kid was shot in the back," the officer told her.
"Everything in me, my whole soul, my whole body, said, 'Timika, that's your baby,'" Rutledge-German said.
The mother walked from her car and saw the body surrounded by police, she said.
"I knew it was my baby 'cause I saw his shoes," she said. "And I saw his jacket. I knew it was him."
Though his mother insisted her son was not in a gang, she did not deny his struggles. He was kicked out of Chicago Public Schools and put in alternative schools after he defied authority figures and developed an attitude problem, she said. He hung out with gang members, she added. But just two months ago he had earned his way back into Kenwood Academy High School, to the delight of his parents, who had high hopes that he was finally being given a chance to straighten out.
Rutledge-German worried that her son's death wouldn't receive the same priority from police as Hadiya's murder because the boy lived in a tough part of town and had a more troubled past.
"I'm still in shock," she said. "I've shed a few tears, but not enough. I just can't accept it."
A resident on the block said dozens of teenagers frequently gather on the street, shooting dice, playing music and horsing around with each other.
Rutledge-German said she knows there are warring gang factions in the neighborhood.
On Tuesday, teenagers trickled in and out of the modest family home. Some wiped away tears as they expressed condolences to the boy's father.
Tywanda Small, 32, a friend and neighbor, described Cornelius as a funny teen who would brighten up a room. But she was outraged that he was dead and police had no one in custody.
"We can't keep these kids locked down in the house. They have to go out and live," she said, her voice rising with emotion. "It's been too many deaths this year and not that many arrests. It's not right."
Rutledge-German acknowledged that her son was supposed to be performing community service Monday night in the Back of the Yards neighborhood but decided to skip it.
His mother said she had recently said a prayer for her boy, the youngest of four children.
"I had said, 'Cornbread is stressing me out. I'm (going) to 'Let go and let God,'" Rutledge-German said. "God said, 'OK, I got you.'"
"Do you know how I feel? I'm questioning my faith."
Tribune reporters Rosemary Regina Sobol and Adam Sege contributed.
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