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By Jean Lotus
Yolanda Paige of Oak Park buried her son at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Hillside, July 13, 10 days after police came to her door at 3 a.m. to tell her he had been killed riding his bike on North Avenue in Chicago.
Damani Henard, 14, was shot and killed around 12:45 a.m. as he rode westbound in the 5000 block of North Avenue. He had been visiting friends in his old neighborhood.
Paige said Chicago detectives are assigned to the case, but witnesses have been reluctant to speak.
"Police have a few leads, but people are afraid," said Paige.
"The city of Chicago belongs to the gangbangers," she added. "I moved to Oak Park to escape gang activity. Damani took that route regularly on his bike. It's so unfortunate he didn't get a chance to enjoy his teenage years."
Police said two men ran across North Avenue from the north side of the street and one shot the boy in the head and back. The two then fled. According to police, a passing motorist stopped his car when he saw the boy lying in the street.
"He was kind enough to get out of the car and he held my baby until he died on the scene."
The family created a display last week with candles and posterboards at the site of LeClaire and North avenues where Henard was killed. A coach from the Humboldt Park Patriots football team, for whom Damani volunteered as a water boy, brought a jersey to display.
Paige said her son was emotionally giving and had just gotten over a clingy stage where he was always wanting to be with her. He liked Yu-Gi-Oh cards and still sucked his thumb, she said. He graduated from West Park Academy in Chicago this June.
"He was not in a gang. It was a case of mistaken identity," she said.
Henard was registered to start at Oak Park and River Forest High School this fall, his mother said. The family moved to Oak Park last year, said his sister, Zapria Robinson, 17.
"He was looking forward to being enrolled in OPRF," Robinson said. "He wanted to try out for the football team and also basketball and debate."
July 13, after the packed funeral repast at Corinthian Temple Church of God in Christ, 4520 W. Washington Blvd., the family drove past the spot where Henard was shot.
Paige said she saw that someone had chained a white "ghost bike" to a street pole. Attached was a sign reading "I just wanted to ride my bike. Damani Henard."
"Whoever did that, I think they are the kindest person," Paige said. "I hope when people see that bike that they help the police find the person who killed my son. I hope someone has a conscience because it could be their brother or son."
Paige works two jobs as a nursing assistant in Highland Park. She is studying to become a registered nurse. She came up with funeral costs of $9,000 by asking co-workers and friends to help.
"I can't go back to work yet. Mentally, I'm still processing that [Damani's] not here," she said. "I want justice for my son. When I think of the fear he must have had trying to ride away …
"I want the man who shot my son to be arrested. The horrific decision he made severely impacted my life and I'll never be the same."