Abner Garcia's parents thought their son had escaped Chicago's gun violence when he enlisted in the army at 19. Now, his parents' greatest fear has come true: Garcia died on August 13 after being fatally shot.
DNAInfo is reporting that the 24-year-old veteran returned to Chicago last year where he began working as a mentor at the YMCA and studying criminal justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Abner dreamed of becoming a police officer.
His family is devastated that all of his dreams have been dashed.
Officials said a van pulled up beside Abner and two friends on the southside of Chicago around 1:40 am on August 13. The alleged shooters flashed gang signs at the car Abner sat in, which led to an argument. Eventually, someone opened the van door and began shooting.
Officers transported Abner to Mount Sinai Hospital where he died at 5:45 am.
"He had no chance," Itzel Garcia, Abner's cousin, told DNAInfo. "These guys just started shooting. It's shocking."
Abner had no gang affiliations, according to police, which is why his family's shocked by his sudden death.
"How can he go through the army, come home. . . it's supposed to be a safe place, you know? And this happens," Da'Maris Garcia, Abner's cousin, told DNA Info.
Ironically, Abner's uncle, Jesus Juarez, died three months ago in the exact same way his nephew did.
Juarez died in a drive-by shooting just a few miles north of Abner's fatal shooting. DNAInfo interviewed Abner about his uncle's violent death in May.
"I saw him all the time, he would always feed me," Abner said. "He was comedian, he was always goofy and loved to crack a joke."
Abner and his uncle's deaths are tiny glimpses into Chicago's gun violence problem.
Fifteen other people were shot on the same night Abner died.
The weekend of his death, a total of 52 people were shot, and nine of those victims died. The blue dots in the map above show the locations where the shootings occurred.
In 2015, Chicago had more homicides than any other city with a total of 468 murders, a 12.5% increase from the year before, and 2,900 shootings, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Halfway through 2016, Chicago's shootings are just 300 short of last year's totals. The shootings of Black men definitely surpass any other group, but Latinos are the second targeted group. For example, in 2011, 75% of Black men were victims of violence in Chicago, compared to almost 20% of Latinos.
The New York Times highlighted the disturbing gun violence during Memorial Day Weekend. That weekend, there were 52 Black shooting victims, 11 Latino victims, and one white victim. Eight of those victims were women.
In May, The New York Times released an interactive report of Chicago's persistent crime and concluded that poverty and segregation is the main reason for the ongoing violence.
"What predicts violent crime rates is concentrated poverty and neighborhood disadvantage, and what determines concentrated poverty is high levels of Black segregation combined with high levels of Black poverty," Douglas S. Massey, a sociology professor at Princeton University, told The New York Times.
The map above shows the areas of violence are in a very concentrated part of Chicago, which are mainly the south and west sides. The New York Times found that those neighborhoods are as dangerous to live in as Brazil and Venezuela.
All of those statistics do little console a family who just lost their young son.
Family and friends have launched a fundraising page to help with Abner's funeral costs.
"Our beloved Abner Garcia has left us suddenly due to Chicago's gun violence. He was loved by all, friends to many and family to everyone," the fundraising site reads. "He was a military vet and a youth mentor. He was a student at UIC majoring in criminal justice. If you could find it in your heart to help us in our time of need, no donation is too small, we appreciate anything. If you could take the time to please share this it would be very much appreciated as well. God bless and thank You."Da'Maris said her cousin's passion to help others is proof he still had so much left to accomplish."He was driven," Da'Maris told DNAInfo. "He wanted to continue to help and save people. He wasn't done living his life."