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Chicago baby dies, day after she's shot 5 times in gang violence targeting dad

| Tuesday, March 12, 2013, 7:42 p.m.

CHICAGO — A 6-month-old girl became the latest innocent victim of Chicago gang violence when a gunman ambushed her father while he was changing her diaper along a South Side street and unloaded round after round into the two of them.

Jonylah Watkins died in a hospital on Tuesday. Surgeons did what they could but were unable to repair the damage from the five bullets that tore through her body during the attack on Monday in Woodlawn. Her father, Jonathan Watkins, was in serious but stable condition, receiving treatment for wounds in his buttocks and side and a graze to his face, police said.

Watkins is a gang member with a long criminal history — including a three-year prison sentence on a weapon charge— and there is little doubt he was the target of the attack, police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said in a news conference hours after the infant died. Watkins was standing at his van door, changing his daughter's diaper around lunchtime, when the gunman approached and opened fire.

“He was obviously targeted,” McCarthy said. “It was very clear that whoever was doing this was firing at the father and exclusively at the father, who happened to be sitting in a minivan with the child.”

The city recorded more than 500 homicides last year for the first time since 2008, and only weeks ago, McCarthy was vowing to capture those responsible for killing 15-year-old honors student Hadiya Pendleton, who was gunned down on a South Side street in an apparent case of mistaken identity.

Two suspected gang members have been charged with killing Pendleton, and on Monday, McCarthy said his department's renewed push to fight gang violence is paying dividends. There were 14 homicides recorded in February, which is half of last February's amount and the lowest monthly total since January 1957.

On Tuesday, a day after the superintendent reported that the number of homicides was down 26 percent compared with the same period last year, McCarthy acknowledged that the infant's shooting makes it “hard to see the progress” and is a reminder that “we have a lot of work to do.”

McCarthy said police have surveillance video that shows the van they believe was the getaway vehicle. He said investigators are trying to verify the existence of an alleged Facebook post threatening Watkins.

Residents surmised that the gunman may not have known the infant was in the van.

“They know who they were going after, but because he was bent over her changing the diaper, they didn't see that child was in the damn car,” said Carl Whitehead, a resident of the block where the shooting took place.

McCarthy said detectives had spoken to Watkins, but that they hadn't determined whether he plans to cooperate with the investigation.

“We don't have one individual that's really stepping up to help us,” he said.

Police often have a hard time getting witnesses to talk about suspected gang-related cases. For example, one of the suspects in the Pendleton case was shot months before the honors student's killing and had refused to cooperate with investigators.

The superintendent said that the neighborhood where the infant was killed is the site of numerous gang conflicts and that police saturated the area on Monday night “in the vicinity of the two gangs we believe to be involved in this conflict.”

The attack added to the grim roster of young children who have been gunned down, including a 7-year-old girl who was caught in the crossfire of a gang shootout while selling snow cones last summer and a 6-year-old girl killed a year earlier while sitting between her mother's legs on the family's porch.

The attack wasn't Jonylah's first brush with gun violence. Her mother, Judy Watkins, was shot in the knee while pregnant with her, according to the woman's mother, Mary Young.

“There's too much shooting over there,” Young told reporters. Speaking of her granddaughter, she added, “She's nothing but 6 months old. How could anybody — what kind of heart?”

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