By Alex Runner
“Around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday a 25-year-old man was shot in the 4900 block of W. Meinecke during a robbery. The victim, whose name was not released, died at a hospital.”
That’s all the Journal Sentinel had to say about it Thanksgiving morning. Just two concise sentences tightly packed with sterile facts: 10:30 p.m. 25 years old. Meinecke. Robbery. No name. Dead.
The contrast between this laundry list of raw data and what I saw Tuesday night couldn’t be starker.
Across the street from my home, a woman was kneeling over her boyfriend. At first I thought he was drunk and passed out. Then I heard the words “shot” and “head.” My longtime neighbor, Mark, was looking at me and pointing to the young man on the ground. My feet took me closer to the body, laying only a few feet from my driveway. Now I was close enough to hear the woman quietly whispering in his ear to “hold on.”
He had been shot in the forehead, where thin streaks of blood splayed out like a spider web. His body was limp. His legs curved awkwardly in the grass. Torso and wounded head were on the sidewalk. He was still breathing, fighting for his life.
I noticed another neighbor, Kris, a military vet who works in information technology for a Milwaukee hospital, standing over the couple. I asked him to hold the man’s hand, and he did. I searched up and down Meinecke. No ambulance. No police. The pool of blood around the man’s head was expanding. Nearly the entire square of cement was red. I dialed 911. “Hold on, sir — we have it here. They’re on their way.” Now I could see the lights, and I began to hear the sirens. They were turning onto Meinecke from Sherman.
I knelt on the grass, held onto the man’s leg and prayed. I prayed that God would heal him. I prayed that Jesus would protect him. I prayed that the woman would be comforted. Before I knew it, the police were there.
“Are any of you family?” they asked us.
“We’re neighbors,” I heard myself say.
“Please go to your homes.”
I stood up and began walking away from the dying man.
The woman couldn’t take it anymore. She gave way to emotion. Arms flailed as the police and paramedics attempted to pull her away, so they could help her boyfriend. She refused to leave him.
“My baby daddy!” she cried “My baby daddy!”
She fell to the ground. She threw her head back. She wept. I went to her and told her that she was making it hard for them to help her boyfriend. They needed to focus on him, not her. She began to calm down, but not much.
The police took her to a van, where she sat on a bumper. She smoked a cigarette. I went inside and ran upstairs. Both my boys were sound asleep. The red and blue lights flashed on the edges of their curtains. I looked out a window to see bright yellow police tape being put up around my street — the street that has been calm for seven years, the sidewalk where my sons and their friends ride their Big Wheels and bicycles, where the neighbors had recently raked leaves. There were still colorful chalk drawings just under the yellow tape.
The next morning, the police tape was gone. The sidewalk had been washed, but it was still dark where the man’s head rested only hours before. Bright blue medical gloves lay in the street, discarded by paramedics. Even though I always pick up every speck of trash near my home, I left them. I didn’t want to touch them. As I left for work, I had no idea if the man was alive or dead. I didn’t know his age or why it happened.
Now I do. 25 years old. Meinecke. Robbery. No name. Dead.
But actually, I don’t know.
I don’t know why someone decided to hold his life in such ill regard. I’m unfamiliar with that depth of hopelessness.
I don’t know what was stolen — or even if there really was a robbery.
I don’t know what this young man hoped or dreamed.
What did he want for his son or daughter? How old is his child? Does he have more than one?
What was he trying to do with his life? Did anyone ever expect that he would only live to be 25? Did it matter that I prayed? Did he realize that we were even there that night? Could he feel my touch on his leg? Could he hear his girlfriend’s whispers?
Where is he now?
I don’t know.
This article first appeared in the Nov. 27, 2011 issue of the Journal Sentinel. Alex Runner lives in the historic Sherman Park neighborhood. He is the former chief aide to Council President Hines. Since writing the article he has learned that the man’s name was Thomas.