Dee Chapman sank into her sofa in tears when she turned on the television news 12 days ago. Another drive-by shooting. Another young victim. Two more families changed for life. When would it end?
"I felt numb, shocked it brought it all home again," says Dee, 69, of the gang shooting that took the life of 7-year-old Maria Del Carmen Menchaca. "The pain that girl's family is feeling will be with them for the rest of their lives. It will be a very long time before they are able to smile again."
Every time another life is lost to gang violence, Dee is taken back to Sept. 1, 1993, Labor Day weekend. She was cooking in advance of a family party when the phone rang at 9:15 p.m. "Mrs. Chapman? We need you to come to LDS Hospital right away. Your son has been shot."
Aaron Chapman, a Granite High baseball player who had recently graduated and was contemplating whether to join the military or become a forest ranger, had agreed to take his cousin and one of her friends to an anti-gang concert at Salt Lake City's Triad Center. Unimpressed by the music, the trio left early in Aaron's gray Monte Carlo, but they didn't get far.
While stopped outside the parking garage, Aaron was approached by a group of teen boys, all wearing blue. One of them was Asi Mohi, a 17-year-old football star from West High School. "What's up, Cuz?" Mohi asked Aaron. "You want some?"
As Aaron looked straight ahead in silence, Mohi sauntered up to his rolled-down window and punched him in the face. While the girls scrambled to escape, Mohi and his friends set upon Aaron, repeatedly hitting him in the head and kicking him as he got out of the car.
Aaron fought back, but he didn't have a chance. Seconds later, Mohi pulled out a gun and shot the Murray teen in the chest, piercing his heart.
After the funeral, Dee sank into a deep depression that lasted three years. Although the ache never goes away, she says, there is still beauty in life. That's why she and her daughter, Mary Theresa, 45, wanted to get together for a Free Lunch of chicken and fries at the Cracker Barrel in West Valley City.
"I want to tell the family of the girl who was shot, 'Don't retaliate there is no future in it,"' says Dee. "They will be angry for a long time, and they won't know where to put that anger. But I remember the day that I finally laughed again. Such a simple thing, but how wonderful. Even in the darkest moment, there was hope."
Now that Mohi is scheduled to get out of prison Sept. 8 after completing a 15-year sentence, she and Mary Theresa pray that gang violence doesn't escalate.
"We need to quit plea bargaining these kids need to know there are consequences," says Mary Theresa, who was sickened to learn of Mohi's long list of felonies and misdemeanors after he killed her brother. "Now they're killing 7-year-olds. If now isn't the time to take back our streets, then when?"Dee's clear blue eyes brim with tears as she thinks of the moments Maria's family will miss. "They won't see her graduate, they won't see her get married or have children," she says. "That's the toughest part. You're always wondering, 'What could have been?"'
Have a story? Let's hear it over lunch. E-mail your name, phone number and what you'd like to talk about to email@example.com. You can also write me at the Deseret News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.