esha Hester worked hard to make son Demarco Webster Jr.’s 14th birthday special, though it seemed everything was working against her that day.
“He said, ‘Ma, I want to go out with you by myself,’” Hester recalled.
But their Oct. 17 trip to a suburban seafood restaurant got off to a rocky start after she got a flat tire on her car. After pulling into the parking lot of a local tire shop, she found the business had closed early. Undeterred, Hester, 37, changed the tire herself, covering her hands in grime and dirt.
An hour later, mother and son made it to Devon Seafood and Steak in Oak Brook. Inside, her biggest surprise would play out. “I said, ‘Son, did you look at your menu?’”
He looked down to see “Happy birthday Demarco” printed in large type.
“He ate good that day,” she said with a smile. Hester was happy to treat her son who worked so hard in school and to protect his younger siblings from trouble on the streets, standing with them after school until his parents picked them up.
The standout eighth-grader at Jensen Elementary Scholastic Academy was killed early Saturday morning in a drive-by shooting as he helped his father move out of an apartment building in the South Austin neighborhood, according to authorities and his family.
“I’m not just numb right now. I really don’t know how to feel,” Hester said at her Homan Square neighborhood townhouse where she and her husband, Juawuan, Demarco’s stepfather, greeted family and friends who stopped by Saturday morning to console them. “I can’t wrap my mind around it, but the only thing I can do is trust God. I don’t know what God is doing, but the only thing I can do is trust him. I can’t really understand it.”
Hester said her son was helping tie a mattress to the roof of his father’s van when two gunmen inside a passing dark-colored sedan opened fire.
Hester said her son panicked and tried to run inside the building when he was struck. Demarco, who police said was hit on the right side of his torso, was rushed to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, where he was pronounced dead at 3:15 a.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
Chicago police could offer no details on a possible motive as detectives continued their work Saturday afternoon, a police spokeswoman said. The honor roll student had never been in trouble, his school principal said. No arrests had been made.
Hester believes her son may have been a victim of mistaken identity. The move had been planned for Saturday morning, but not wanting to stay in the neighborhood any longer, Demarco and some of his siblings who were helping wanted to pack up that night, Hester said.
She worries that her tall, lanky son may have been mistaken for one of the young men involved in a gang conflict.
“My son, he’s a big, tall kid, so maybe they figured he was one of them,” she said.
Whatever the reason, Hester said she wants justice for her son. “I want the people who are responsible for this to pay for this,” she said.
The athletic youngster had been looking forward to basketball tryouts at his school next week. Jensen Principal Chinyere Okafor-Conley said she was heartbroken by the news of Demarco’s death, calling him a popular, standout student and role model for younger students who balanced academics and athletics. “He was a role model scholar and one of my best,” she said Saturday.
Demarco was a perennial honor roll student who in his previous school year didn’t earn anything lower than a B grade. He had planned to run for student council and was being drafted into an NAACP leadership program, according to Okafor-Conley.
The day before the shooting, he was one of a handful of high-achieving academic students selected to attend a career fair.
The principal had a difficult time accepting the death of a young man with so much promise. “It’s kind of hard to understand that, in the morning you have a scholar who is looking at careers and college and less than 24 hours later he’s not here,” Okafor-Conley said, her voice breaking. “It’s really hard.”
Okafor-Conley said grief counselors would be on hand Monday to assist students.