“I was trying to help. I was trying to help. I was trying to help her,” Jonathan Watkins told the Chicago Sun-Times Tuesday, shortly after learning his 6-month-old daughter, Jonylah, died from wounds suffered when they were both shot on a Woodlawn street.
“They told me she didn’t make it, “ he said in a brief phone interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, his voice cracking with emotion.
Watkins, who remains in critical condition at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said he has no idea who shot them Monday afternoon, although Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said it appears that Watkins was the “intended victim.”
Watkins was standing on the curb on the 6500 block of South Maryland in the Woodlawn neighborhood, using the front passenger seat of a minivan as he changed her diaper, when a gunman emerged unnoticed from a gangway behind him and opened fire, hitting Watkins and his baby.
While police are exploring several different angles to the investigation, McCarthy said Tuesday that “there are very strong gang overtones to this event.”
McCarthy acknowledged the father has an extensive criminal history, and a police source said Watkins has more than 30 prior arrests.
“We’re not clear at this point if he’s cooperating,” McCarthy said, acknowledging that police have reached out to the Rev. Corey Brooks to obtain cooperation from the family. Brooks has acted as a family spokesman.
“We don’t have one individual who is stepping up to help us.”
A woman who identified herself as Jonathan Watkins’ sister answered the phone in the hospital and said: “He’s devastated right now and just trying to deal with that.”
Hospital staff told Watkins they planned to try to get him up and walking Tuesday, but Watkins’ sister described him as emotional “as anyone” who lost a baby to gun violence might be.
Brooks said Monday that Jonylah suffered five gunshot wounds, the infant’s second brush with gun violence. Her mother, Judy Watkins, 20, was shot in the knee when she was eight months pregnant with Jonylah, less than three blocks from Monday’s shooting in the 20th Ward.
“The corner where the incident occurred has been under the constant watch of a posted police car for over a year now,” Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) said in a statement Tuesday. “Unfortunately yesterday that was not enough. This incident reminds us that more still needs to be done to protect residents form the senseless violence that has plagued our city.”
On Monday, minutes after the shooting about 12:50 p.m., a police escort cleared the way for the ambulance carrying Jonylah to Comer Children’s Hospital, a measure usually seen only when a police officer is shot.
Jonathan Watkins, who relatives said was in his late 20s, was shot in the side and buttocks and suffered a graze wound to his cheek.
After the shooting, the gunman ran across a vacant lot, hopped into a blue van and drove north.
Police were investigating whether the shooting may have been prompted by an angry post on Facebook, a source told the Chicago Sun-Times. Tiffany Young, 31, one of Judy Watkins’ sisters, said she didn’t know anything about a possible Facebook feud.
Jonathan Watkins and his daughter had been visiting friends in the neighborhood when the shooting occurred, said Mary Young, the baby’s maternal grandmother.
Family members struggled to understand how anybody could gun down a little baby.
“There’s too much shooting over there,” Mary Young said. “She’s none but 6 months old. How could anybody — what kind of heart?”
Dominique Young, one of Judy Watkins’ sisters said: “The person who did this, they need to turn themselves in. They were really trying to hurt” someone.
Asked about reports from police that Jonathan Watkins has gang ties, Brooks responded, saying: “We’re dealing with a family man with a wife and a child. We have no idea about any gang-banging.”
After her daughter survived surgery, Judy Watkins clung to a purple balloon that read, “Get well soon,” as Brooks said: “We need everybody praying. This mother is hurt, traumatized. We need this baby to live.”
Brooks said people were passing out fliers near 67th and Maryland seeking information about the shooting.
“We are not going to stop until we catch the people responsible,” he said.
Earlier Monday evening, Brooks said his church is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to arrest of the gunman.
“Any time you shoot someone, it’s a cowardly act. For a baby to be shot, it’s despicable,” he said.
Judy Watkins, who had recently married Jonathan, was finishing a shift at a McDonald’s restaurant when she heard her husband and daughter had been shot.
Neighbors said gunfire is common in the area.
Sedell Brown, 54, ushered her two granddaughters inside around the corner from the crime scene as they walked home from school.
“I don’t even let them go outside,” said Brown, who plans to move the family to a safer neighborhood. “I’m already packing. . . . I’m praying that I live to see 55. They shot a 6-month-old baby. You know they wouldn’t give a damn about me.”