With the solid crack of a crowbar, the hooded burglar sent the showcase glass showering onto the gun shop’s floor and quickly swept several pistols into his shoulder bag.
Among the cache that New Year’s morning at a northern Wisconsin gun shop was a lightweight 9mm handgun with a black polymer grip, a black steel slide and a 4½ inch barrel.
On one side was the stamp of the handgun’s unique serial number: YZC020. On the other, the logo of one of the most profitable and ubiquitous firearms companies in the world: Glock.
The Austrian handgun, a model 17, had been imported to the company’s Smyrna, Georgia, plant and then shipped to the gun shop, where it was to be sold for as much as $400.
It took all of about 20 seconds for the handgun and eight others to slip from the secure display case of a federally licensed firearms dealer and into the underground gun market.
In little over a month it was on the streets of Chicago, where it would be fired over and over and over, linked to some 27 shootings before it was taken off the streets. An extended magazine, which increases firepower, was attached.
All told, two dozen people were shot during its use here in a handful of Chicago neighborhoods, two of them killed. A cluster of shootings took place in North Lawndale on the West Side, for example, with three on one block alone.
The Tribune examined hundreds of documents obtained through open-records requests to outline and understand the Glock’s path to and throughout Chicago, conducting numerous interviews to learn how the weapon moved about the city and hearing from those whose lives were forever altered by its use.
The connections between the shootings were established by Chicago Police Department firearms technicians, who test-fire and examine thousands of recovered firearms, bullets and shell casings each year to generate investigative leads for detectives.
The fact that one gun is linked by police to 27 shootings has stunned local law enforcement officials, who say it could be the most ever connected to one firearm in Chicago through a computerized ballistics-imaging program administered by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“This is an extreme case,” Chicago police West Side detective Cmdr. Richard Wiser said of the Glock 17. “Typically you’ll see … anywhere from two to five (possible shootings) on a gun. Sometimes a few more.”
The trail of the Glock from that smashed glass case in Superior, Wisconsin, to its recovery during a street stop gives a glimpse at a world where any handgun is a hot commodity, offering the currency, protection and power that drives violent street conflicts.
It’s a trail of physical pain and life-changing grief for individuals, and great financial cost to the city. Researchers have estimated the cost of just one gunshot injury — including medical expense to the earning power of victims to the loss of business in the affected area — to be well over $1 million.
The potential damage done by just one pistol that traveled over state lines should sound an alarm, considering the current skyrocketing rates of gun violence in Chicago and around the country, experts said.
“Guns, they don’t grow on trees,” said Cassandra Crifasi, deputy director of the Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy at Johns Hopkins University. “They start somewhere and they are exceptionally durable products and they can last a very, very long time. It is so important that we are doing everything we can to make sure guns are not falling into the hands of people we know shouldn’t have them. This gun is evidence of all the havoc that can be wreaked with just one.”
Through the end of July, Chicago police said they had recovered more than 7,200 guns in the city, up 28% over this time last year.
“My real big thing is I want to get some of the guns back,” a detective from the Superior Police Department said to the small-time crook and drug user charged in the break-in during questioning about the gun shop burglary.
“Guns out there in bad people’s hands kill people,” he said. “Stolen guns do nothing but bad things.”
The early trail
Traffic had come to a halt at a red light at the corner of 31st and State streets one February evening in 2016 when shots rang out.
First one. Then four or five more. Inside one vehicle, a 24-year-old man was struck just below his ear but would survive.
A driver of a silver Honda Accord, also at the intersection, drove a few blocks and waited for police. A bullet had pierced the rear driver’s side door.
Soon at 31st and State streets, outside the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago police worked the scene. They found a few shell casings and tagged them as evidence, sending them to the Chicago police firearms lab.
At the cramped lab inside the West Side facility, the casings were examined under a microscope by a technician before being entered into the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, or NIBIN, the computerized system administered by the ATF that analyzes high-resolution images of firearms evidence.
The vast system is constantly searching the uploaded evidence to make matches between shell casings found at crime scenes to determine if they are linked to a recovered gun. The ballistics evidence would face further testing before ever being brought to court.
The casing images from 31st and State remained in the database, waiting for a potential match. They were the first sign of the Glock’s use in Chicago, though its whereabouts on the street would remain a mystery.
Many whose lives were altered by the gun’s use would describe for the Tribune how it affected them. Others either couldn’t be found or would refuse to talk about it, like the man shot below his ear, saying that speaking about what happened just wouldn’t help.
“Chicago is a trap,” he said before eventually hanging up.
Evidence from the gun did not surface again until May that year, when a 25-year-old woman suffered a minor head injury, apparently from shattered glass in a shooting in the 500 block of North Kedzie Avenue. As many as 18 shell casings littered a sidewalk and nearby alley.
Then the gun seemed to go silent again until mid-October, when the evidence trail lit up anew.
About 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 16, several gun shots rang out at 47th Street and King Drive. Witnesses reported that a green Chevy Impala pulled alongside another car near the corner and someone inside the Impala fired.
The driver’s side door of the other car was peppered with several bullet holes, and inside the car a 24-year-old man had been shot in the hip.
Evidence recovered at the scene was matched in the NIBIN database to the stolen Glock.
Two days later in the 4600 block of South Greenwood, a 29-year-old man driving southbound was shot in the head but was able to take himself to University of Chicago Medical Center. Back at the crime scene, shell casings were recovered again, and entered into the ballistics system, establishing yet another match.
And just one day later on Oct. 19, according to detectives’ reports, the Glock surfaced during an investigation into an even more serious shooting.
Detectives investigating the homicide of Eric Banks, a 25-year-old South Side man, killed in September of that year located a car they believed had been used in the fatal shooting.
The Buick, sitting in a vacant lot in the 5600 block of South Calumet Avenue, had a fresh coat of green paint. And there was something on the outside of the car’s windshield, a detective’s notes said.
“Two expended shells were observed resting on the cowl of the windshield of the Buick,” the detective wrote in a supplementary report. “Upon closer inspection the expended shells were observed to be 9mm shells.”
Though not linked to other ballistics evidence found at the homicide scene, testing determined that the shell casings from the car’s windshield matched the Glock. The casings were added to the now growing list of firearms evidence believed to be linked to the same gun.
The pistol had by then likely been passed or sold or borrowed for use in Chicago’s street gun violence. After a gun is used, those involved often want to dispose of it to avoid any connection
A search of the alleged getaway car in the Banks killing also revealed another link to the Superior area. Tucked inside the front driver side door pocket was a piece of mail addressed to the car’s owner at the St. Louis County Jail in Duluth, Minn., which is right over the river from the Wisconsin town, according to detective’s notes released to the Tribune.
The man, who was eventually charged in Banks’ murder as the getaway driver and faces trial, has a conviction for drug sales in Duluth, according to state court documents. He was not charged in connection with the burglary at Superior Shooters or with trafficking any of the weapons taken that day. A lawyer for him declined to comment.
Officials from ATF and Chicago police said how the gun got into Chicago remains unknown.
The burglary suspect who was questioned by Superior police, Dexter Leddy, was eventually convicted of theft in the break-in. The Tribune was unable to reach Leddy, 27, who has lived in the Superior area, for an interview.
The pace picks up
Over the next several months, the violence police linked to the Glock picked up considerably.
And the pistol took a geographic turn as well. Though it had been used mostly on the South Side, starting in November 2016 the shell casings linked to the gun turn up almost exclusively on the West Side.
It was connected to shootings in November, including two on the same block on South Kildare Avenue.
On Nov. 7, someone fired about eight shots, striking a parked Chrysler and wounding a 22-year-old man who was struck in his right armpit and later treated at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Eight days later on the same block, 19-year-old Andre Williams had just come home from work and was walking his little Shih Tzu mix, Patches, when a car pulled up around the corner and then parked.
Williams had stopped to talk to a friend when he noticed it. There was nothing remarkable about the car until it suddenly accelerated forward.
Then someone inside opened fire.
Williams heard a gunshot and fell to the ground. He then went for cover, scrambling underneath a car. He continued to be shot, however, as his legs were sticking out on the street.
“I’d say my upper body part was up under the car and then my legs was poking out, so they just kept shooting at my legs,” he told the Tribune.
The burning sensation from the bullets was intense. After the shooting stopped and the car had pulled away, one of his friends yanked him from under the vehicle. Williams’ mother and sister rushed over to him.
Williams had been shot in his left leg, left hip, groin and buttock.
A calm Williams sought to reassure everyone that he was OK. He kept telling his mother he was strong and, “I’ve got this,” he remembered.
As he lay wounded, he was talking to everyone, including the paramedics. Later at the hospital he even had his brother buy them coffee from a Dunkin’ Donuts.
Williams would endure two surgeries, one the day of the shooting and the other a day later. Doctors put a rod in his wounded leg with six screws and replaced his hip, Williams said.
Now 24, Williams said he is likely unable to have children due to his injuries. He has to wear loose clothing to avoid pressure where he was wounded. He can only take quick showers — what he calls “bird baths” — because the water can be too painful on his leg.
“It didn’t break me. It didn’t overcome me. It didn’t stop me from doing anything I want to do in my life, even though there’s going to be problems and bridges that I’ve got to cross with it,” Williams said. “You’ve got to manage your life, work through it.”
‘You’re trying to survive’
Even as Williams was recovering from his surgeries, the Glock continued to be fired all over the West Side.
Between Dec. 5 and Dec. 7, 2016, there were four more shootings, including one in the eastbound lanes of the Eisenhower Expressway. A driver was injured by shattered glass, and shell casings matching the gun were scattered along with those from a second weapon across a two-block stretch on the highway.
The next day at 2:20 p.m., a 35-year-old man arrived at Mount Sinai Hospital suffering from a gunshot wound in his chest. He later told police that he had been standing in the 1100 block of South Francisco Avenue, outside of the North Lawndale Safer Foundation, when a passenger in an Audi opened fire. Shell casings were later recovered, linking the Glock to yet another crime.
About 9:20 p.m. that evening, a 49-year-old man was shot several times behind his home in the 300 block of North St. Louis Avenue. The man’s girlfriend told police he had just left to drive to a store when she heard five or six gunshots.
He managed to walk back upstairs for help despite being hit in the chest, left armpit, left bicep, right shoulder and right upper thigh. The man survived his injuries.
On a recent afternoon back on the street, the block was the focus of a “pop-up,” a gathering that community organizations host with neighbors to counter the violence.
In the middle of the street, children played in a bouncy house, others tossed around a football. A DJ clad in a Scottie Pippen Chicago Bulls jersey blared the “Cha Cha Slide.” Full-court basketball games with referees were under way in a park, where a few dozen people had also gathered for a cookout.
Damien Morris, senior director of violence prevention for Breakthrough Urban Ministries, called it “mind-boggling” that the Glock was used so frequently and could cause so much destruction.
But as someone who has long worked in Chicago to reduce violence, Morris understands why a gun like that would remain in circulation in the underground street world for so long.
“There could be a number of reasons why that same gun been in rotation, right?” Morris explained. “Sometimes people sell it because once you commit a crime, right, you want to get rid of the gun and then you may sell it for cheaper than what it goes for on the market, right? And, so, then, now you just have that gun floating around.”
He knows the desperation behind it all too.
“People don’t ask no questions,” he also said. “The whole mentality is that, especially for at-risk or high-risk individuals, ‘I’d rather get caught with it than without it.’ So, they’re not going to ask any questions if they feel like this gun is going to protect them. They’re not going to ask, ‘Hey, did you do anything with the gun?’ … You’re trying to survive.”
The damage linked to the Glock continued into 2017. On Jan. 10, a 22-year-old man was shot in the back at 15th Street and Kolin Avenue in North Lawndale. He told police someone jumped out of a vehicle and opened fire.
‘You know God gots you’
On a rainy April 10, 2017, two gunmen got out of a silver Pontiac Grand Prix in the 4300 block of West 15th Street and opened fire on a sidewalk near Franklin Park, where a group had gathered.
It was just blocks from the stretch of Kildare where Andre Williams was shot.
Fontaine “B.J.” Sanders, a 19-year-old college student, was struck and killed, and another man was wounded.
According to a police report, a witness got a look at one of the handguns the shooters used. It was black, with an extended clip.
Sixteen 9mm shell casings were scooped off the street by police and tested at the firearms lab for links to other crimes, and they got what was becoming an all-too-familiar answer. One of the weapons used that day was the Glock, connected by then to a long series of shootings around the city.
Sanders had just finished a game of pickup basketball with his friends at the park. He loved basketball, and the Los Angeles Lakers the most.
In spring of 2016, Sanders was about to complete his associate’s degree in kinesthesiology at Robert Morris University and had a mentor at a neighborhood social service organization who had helped him secure janitorial work.
When he was done playing ball that April afternoon on his spring break, Sanders called his mother to say he was planning to come home and get money to go eat with his friends, she told the Tribune.
Corniki Bornds urged her son to stay home once he got there.
“Come on home,” Bornds, who lived a few blocks from the park, urged her son. “Your grandma is cooking something up for you.”
That was the last conversation they had. Bornds, who was napping, woke up a short while later to the blare of sirens. Friends and family called her and came to her house to tell her she had to go to Mount Sinai Hospital.
There Bornds tended to her son, who had been shot in the head.
“You know God gots you,” she recalled telling him, holding his hand. “You OK. You OK.”
Everything changed after he died the next day, she said.
“I’ve been trying to get back to my regular routine and I cannot,” Bornds told the Tribune.
April 10 of this year was again rainy. Mylar balloons swayed outside Grace Memorial Baptist church, just two blocks from where Sanders was shot.
Inside, the sanctuary was bathed in Los Angeles Lakers purple and gold for a white tablecloth scholarship luncheon to honor Sanders. Bornds took care of a few final touches — moving a table and getting young men to help haul in food — before she changed her clothes for the event.
Bornds has worked through her grief with the support of other mothers who have lost their sons and by finding ways to help others in her community who face the same type of gun violence. She runs a Facebook prayer service and once a month hosts a support group called Help Understanding Grief or HUG. And each year, she offers small stipends to a handful of students in her son’s name to help pay for schooling costs, in part because B.J. was struggling to pay his latest school bills when he was shot.
One recipient used the money to pay outstanding fees so they could walk with their class at graduation in cap and gown. Another put the money toward dorm fees at his college.
“I made a promise after losing my baby that no kid I know of would be out of school for money issues,” Bornds told the crowd that day. “… So today we are going to honor some young people … and let them know they got some people pushing for them.”
As 2017 wore on, the Glock continued to make its presence felt.
A 17-year-old was found lying on a front lawn in the 2700 block of West Polk Street, his jeans soaked in blood. A 55-year-old reported being shot at in the 700 block of South Oakley Boulevard.
Again, expended firearms evidence collected at both scenes was linked to the gun.
On May 9, the Kildare block where Williams had been shot months earlier was hit yet again. Two people, a 25-year-old man and a 19-year-old woman, were shot.
It was the third shooting in six months on the block, a street lined with small town homes that is tucked between the T intersection on the north and Unity Park on the south.
One evening this June, neighbors gathered to make plans for the rest of the summer.
The group sat on benches, talking about how they had mapped out the most dangerous areas of North Lawndale so residents could spend time outside in those areas together.
As the conversation continued, Gerald Bryant, who is better known as “Mr. Bryant,” in the neighborhood, sat nearby, his long legs tucked under a small chair, as he rolled hot dogs over the sizzling heat of a grill. Old school R&B played from a speaker.
Bryant supervises lunch break and recess at Roswell B. Mason Elementary School, which abuts the park. In the summer he runs basketball leagues on the outdoor courts.
Bryant was upbeat, excited and ready for the summer that evening. His family has been in North Lawndale for decades, and he loves the place.
“There’s so much good over here,” Bryant, 67, said.
Bryant knows the area’s troubles. He says he sees cars race onto the tiny strip near the park and knows what goes on in the alley.
It’s down there where young men from the block peddle what they have to sell: a “loosie” cigarette or maybe narcotics.
“That corner has always been a hustle corner,” he said.
Some argue this is the only work the young men can get. Many, including Bryant, agree it contributes to Chicago’s gun violence.
“I’ve lost so many kids from over there,” Bryant said, as he turned to his son, who helps his dad with the basketball program. “What do you think the number of kids that have gotten killed out of Mason that we know?”
“Over a hundred probably,” the younger Bryant responded.
The number hung in the air, no hint of exaggeration, as four little girls tumbled on the grass nearby.
But Bryant said he is not angry with the young men down at that end. Hardly. He knows they were born into their circumstances.
The solutions are legitimate economic opportunities to replace the hustle on the corner, Bryant said. Otherwise, the guns will keep getting passed crew to crew and getting used over and over, as needed, with retaliations cycling from one shooting to the next.
Until that happens, Bryant will keep running his basketball program, now 12 years going strong, where all are welcome.
Swedish Fish and Swisher Sweets
By May 2017, the Glock’s life on Chicago streets was nearing its end.
But the damage wasn’t quite over.
On May 16, Jonathan Green, 34, and his brother left a North Lawndale convenience store with Sprites, Swedish Fish and Swisher Sweets cigars in hand.
As the pair walked, an SUV with three people inside pulled up, and the group said something before the vehicle pulled away. The brothers kept walking, but the SUV approached again a short time later, with two of the passengers having pulled masks over their faces.
One got out of the car with a handgun equipped with an extended magazine. He pointed it at Green, fired twice and shot Green in his leg. Green’s brother ran away when the second passenger got out of the car and opened fire in his direction but missed.
After Jonathan Green was shot the first time, one of the passengers ran up to him to shoot him several more times. The passengers then got back into the SUV and drove off.
Green’s brother heard as many as 14 shots. More than a dozen shell casings were recovered by police at the crime scene, some near a pool of blood.
“It seemed like he was trying to run home,” Green’s widow, Darcell Williams, told the Tribune about her husband. “That’s the way he was lying on the ground.”
Williams, 35, couldn’t think of any logical reason for her husband to die like he did, and has a more chilling idea about what happened.
“I think a lot of killings around here, it just goes off, like, guys probably just riding around, like, ‘Oh, we bored. Let’s kill him,’ you know? Like, stuff like that,” Williams said. “Because he didn’t bother nobody. He walked everywhere he went.”
Williams and their children still have a party every March 21 for his birthday. The children also visit the block where he was killed on the anniversary of his death to release balloons in his memory.
Green’s aunt, Jackie Green, said Jonathan didn’t finish high school but got his GED. He was good with math and worked with her as a tax preparer, Green said. As a child, she joked, his family nicknamed him “Goo” because it was the sound he’d make when struggling to pronounce certain words.
In her living room, Jackie Green sat surrounded by sketches that she’s drawn over the years including one of movie star Al Pacino in “Scarface,” another of comic legend Richard Pryor and one of Jonathan in flashy sunglasses.
“It still seems like that day that he got killed,” Green said. “It’s like the pain really never leaves.”
At the time of Green’s shooting, the Glock had already been used in more than two dozen crimes in Chicago.
Three weeks later, it was finally taken off the street.
‘Who gonna protect us?’
Nearly 18 months after the burglar in Superior pulled the Glock out of a display case, the handgun slid down the pants of a man during a routine police stop in Chicago’s West Garfield Park neighborhood on the West Side.
It was July 26, 2017, and 29-year-old Cory Stone was sitting on the floor of a minivan that was parked, with its doors open, in the 4300 block of West Gladys Avenue. Plainclothes Chicago police officers surrounded the vehicle to question Stone and others in the van about the vehicle’s missing registration sticker, a traffic stop Stone’s lawyer would later unsuccessfully challenge.
As Stone stood up, an officer behind him saw a gun-shaped object sliding down Stone’s gray sweatpants, according to footage from the police body cameras worn during the arrest.
“Gun!” the officer said urgently. “Gun! Gun!”
“What’s going on?” a startled Stone said, as the officers grabbed him. One officer warned him that his interaction with police was being recorded.
“I ain’t doing nothing,” Stone said. “I’m not doing nothing, sir. I’m not doing nothing at all.”
One officer held Stone and with one hand nudged the handgun down to Stone’s ankle and out of his pants. It had what appeared to be an extended magazine attached to it.
It was a Glock 17. And it would later be inventoried, along with its serial number: YZC020. Chicago police firearms techs test-fired the pistol, collected its expended shell casings and then compared them to all firearms evidence in the NIBIN system.
A computer search generated the result. A gun that had ravaged the city for more than a year was finally off the streets.
A few months later, on Oct. 12, Ballistic Information Alert #2016-640S was done, the findings detailed in a chart that required a full page to capture the mayhem it had left in its wake.
“Shooting Case with Person Shot – Area Central,” read the details. “Criminal Damage Case — Area North… Shooting Case with No Person Shot — Area Central. Homicide Case — Area North.”
It went on and on.
Stone faced federal charges for having the gun and served about 2½ years in prison. He wasn’t connected to any shooting involving the weapon.
Stone is out of prison now, and when the Tribune caught up with him this summer, he was reflective and working to put that life behind him.
He had moved into a new apartment and gotten married. He was helping his wife run a fashion clothing line and had opened a beauty salon.
As for the Glock, Stone said he was carrying it in 2017 for protection.
In 2016, Stone was a victim of gun violence himself, surviving a serious shooting that required hours of surgery and left him, to this day, with a colostomy bag. Also that year, close family friends — twins he considered brothers — were fatally shot.
Stone, who said he has since sought counseling, said he now thinks the decision to carry a handgun was also influenced by having experienced other trauma and loss at that time, including watching his brother die from sickle cell anemia at their home after trying to revive him with CPR.
By July 2017, Stone said he felt unsafe and racked with grief, like he was “losing my mind.” And tempers on the street today, Stone said, flash harder and quicker.
“If the police ain’t solve the twins’ murder, they didn’t solve my incident, who gonna protect us?” Stone said.
“My intention,” he explained. “Was to protect my family.”
Stone said he got the gun off the street. And that investigators interviewed him about the Glock, pressing him for details on the numerous shootings connected to it. He said he told them the same thing he told the Tribune: He doesn’t know the person he got the gun from. Nor did he know anything about the gun’s history on the street.
No one has been charged in the shootings connected to the pistol, the Tribune has found, except in the murders of Sanders and Green.
Neither the Glock nor any of the firearms evidence associated with it has yet been used at a trial.
A link established though computerized imaging cannot be used in court. Testing results would only be used at trial if the Illinois State Police confirm a match with a careful, hand-done examination of the evidence itself, which so far they have done for 10 shootings for the Glock in question.
The pistol that brought pain to so many now sits in evidence space along with untold others at the Leighton Criminal Court Building at 26th Street and California Avenue.
It waits, perhaps, for another moment, this time as a prosecutor holds it up in the light for some future jury to see.
Coming Thursday: On the ground in Superior, Wisconsin, for a look at the gun shop and how the fallout from the 2016 burglary was emblematic of a crime problem that has seen guns flow in into Chicago and drugs into northern Wisconsin.