Tyler Lumar was a singer and a dancer. He played baseball when he was a kid. He was the kind of person who liked to make you laugh. He went to Oak Park and River Forest High School. He had a daughter and a girlfriend and a mother and a grandmother and a lot of other people who loved him.
And if you never met Tyler Lumar, you never will. That’s because at the age of 24, he died.
His family wants you to remember him and know what happened.
Lumar was arrested twice in 2016, first while trying to get medication for his debilitating asthma.
He would have gone to his regular physician in Oak Park, his family explained, but his longtime doctor had died a few months prior, and Lumar was in the process of finding a new one. The clinic rejected his request for his medication and he became angry.
Lumar, a black man, believed he was being discriminated against like so many other people of color.
It’s unclear exactly what happened at the clinic that day, but staff there called Chicago police, who arrived and told him to leave, which he did. As he was walking away from the clinic, the same police officers arrested him for a warrant out of Lee County for driving on a suspended license.
Turns out the suspended license charge likely was a clerical error. He told the police that he was up-to-date on his payments at the scene of his arrest, and his longtime girlfriend, Casey Tencate, 24, provided proof that he was making payments on the outstanding parking tickets.
She spoke to Lumar briefly that day and thought it would all be worked out. That cellphone conversation with her longtime boyfriend, right before the device was taken from him, was the last time she would ever hear his voice.
Police placed Lumar under arrest and, while in custody, he had an asthma attack and was taken to a hospital for treatment. When he returned to Cook County Jail afterward, Lumar was accused of being in possession of crack cocaine. His lawyer says video surveillance proves the drugs weren’t his. Lumar had been searched for drugs eight times prior to the drug possession arrest.
According to police, Lumar attempted to take his own life in his jail cell that same day. He suffered a serious brain injury and spent more than a year and a half in various hospitals and clinics prior to his death on April 18 of this year.
The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office has not released an official cause of his death, but it certainly is connected to the injuries he sustained almost two years ago.
“Mommy, what if the funeral was a dream and when [Grandma] Lisa called you it was a dream and when daddy passed it was a dream?”
These are the unprompted words of 5-year-old Savannah Lumar, Tyler and Casey’s daughter. She spoke them during a recent interview with Casey and Lisa Alcorn, Tyler’s mother.
“Maybe,” Tencate said to her daughter. “So right now this is a dream and our dreams are real life? Maybe.”
Savannah, Casey and Lumar’s grandmother, Linda Augustus, and hundreds of others who knew Lumar, are now left with only memories.
Casey and Tyler met in high school at the age of 16. They are two months apart in age. “Tyler had [dreadlocks] at the time,” Casey told Wednesday Journal.
It was a sticking point for Casey at the time, who said they “didn’t look right on Tyler.”
She agreed to date Tyler if he cut them, Tyler’s mother recalled. She remembered driving down Lake Street one day when she saw her son.
“Mom, mom!” Tyler said, waving down his mother’s car.
“He jumps in the car and says, ‘Can I please, can I please get some money for a haircut?’ And I was like, ‘A haircut?'” Alcorn remembered.
“He said, ‘Casey said if I cut my dreads off, she’ll go out on a date with me.’ I was like, ‘Absolutely!’ I gave him that money so fast and I was like, ‘Who is this girl?'”
Alcorn said she has nothing against dreadlocks in general, but admitted that she worried about them on her son.
“I was so afraid because of stereotypes,” she said.
Alcorn, 48, is in therapy now, trying to work through the emotional distress of losing her only son.
“Tyler, my son, was actually full of life,” Alcorn explained, fighting back the tears. “He loved to make people smile and laugh, so he did that a lot by music.”
Those closest to Tyler Lumar remembered that he loved Michael Jackson as a kid, so much so that his godmother made Lumar a sequined jacket and glove that he would wear when he would perform Jackson hits at family events.
“At every hospital we kept [the glove] in the room,” Alcorn recalled. “The last place he was at, we actually hung it on the wall.”
His grandmother, Linda Augustus, 69, remembered that Lumar was always making people laugh.
“At my 60th birthday party he entertained my guests, and they’re still talking about it,” she said.
A call to action
The sequined jacket Lumar once wore at family events was displayed at a vigil held on May 6, in Scoville Park, where about 150 friends and family of Lumar gathered.
Organized by the Oak Park-based group Suburban Unity Alliance, attendees wore green T-shirts that read “Tyler Tough” to remember Lumar’s life and tragic death and to raise awareness about traumatic brain injuries.
Family members spoke about the impact Lumar had on their lives.
“He might not have been technically my son-in-law, but he was a son to me and he would have eventually been married to my daughter,” Philip Tencate, Casey’s father told the crowd. “I just wanted to put a face to us, so you could see us, as this family here, a diverse family.”
Philip Tencate said Lumar’s death has united the two families.
“And this little link here,” Philip Tencate said, pointing to Savannah, “[Tyler’s] united us even more.”
“We will be family forever because of Tyler, and we love you, Tyler, and you’ll always be in our hearts,” he said, choking back tears.
Anthony Clark, founder of Suburban Unity Alliance, called on those who attended the vigil to share Lumar’s story and those of other people of color who have lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement officials.
“I was having a conversation with someone and they were saying, ‘Why haven’t we heard about Tyler and Tyler’s story to the same level and the same extent as the Stephan Clarks, of the Philando Castiles, of the Michael Browns, the Laquon McDonalds?’ and we should have,” Clark said.
“We have to realize that the system is the problem. There’s not always going to be a physical gun pointed at a black male and a trigger gets pulled. The system is the gun. And each and every day someone in our communities pulls the trigger.”