By John Carpenter and Cat Zakrzewski
Homicide Watch Chicago
Everyone said he was the kind of guy who would do anything for his friends. So when Tommie Bates heard that a friend was getting beat up a few blocks away, no one was surprised when he ran to help him.
The shock came later on the morning of July 12, when the voice on the other end of the phone line told his grandmother she might want to have someone with her when she heard the bad news.
Bates, a 24-year-old father of three, was dead – stabbed to death, allegedly by a man he’d known for years.
“He lost his life trying to stop a fight between two brothers,” said Nickie Veal, Bates’ grandmother, who said she has raised him “since he was two days old.”
Police said Bates was trying to break up a fight between Robert Moore, 23, and Moore’s brother. Robert Moore, who allegedly stabbed Bates in the chest, was arrested that morning and faces first-degree murder charges.
Veal said Moore used to live across the street from her house, where Bates grew up.
“His mother called me and cried, said it was an accident,” Veal said. “And I said maybe god wrap her in his arms as well as he will me and take us through this because it’s all that we can possibly do is just pray and just put those hands to the good lord.”
As Veal sat on her front porch, talking about Moore, she pointed to a printout of Moore’s mugshot, taped to her window. Written on the paper were the words: “Stab my baby in the chest.”
“How is it an accident when you’ve got a weapon; when you’ve got two weapons? He had two knives,” she said.
Several of Bates’ friends gathered Tuesday morning in front of Veal’s Austin house, where Bates grew up. The front-yard fence is now a makeshift memorial in Bates’ honor, covered with dozens of Sharpie-scribbled expressions of grief, and remembrances of happier times.
The friends said Bates and Moore’s brother were hanging out on the block, late into the warm summer night, when they got word that Robert Moore was getting beaten up near his apartment in the 700 block of N. Central, a few blocks away.
“They just ran that way,” said Alexis Ruffin, 24, a longtime friend.
The friends said Bates and the other man found Moore lying in the middle of Central Street, having been beaten. They helped him up, whereupon he ran inside the apartment building in a rage, emerging with two knives. It was then, the friends said, that Moore attacked his brother, and Bates stepped in. The friends’ account is similar to the information released by police.
Jonathan Carter, 19, said Bates was a good friend they had all known since childhood.
“We’ve known him all our life, since we were kids playing games in the basement,” Carter said.
Looking around the street, Ruffin said it was a tight-knit community.
“We’re all one, big family on this block,” she said.
Veal looked down from her porch on the friends as they sat in the street, remembering the advice she said she always gave Bates – advice she wishes he heeded.
“I used to tell him … don’t ever go and try to intervene,” she said. “Don’t ever go in between anybody. With these young people, what else can you do but the very best you can? It’s just such a sad situation.”
Photos by Cat Zakrzewski