BY SUSAN DU
Homicide Watch Chicago
Carol Robinson usually doesn’t react to the sound of gunshots.
They’re a common occurrence in her South Chicago community, she said. But something made her spring out of bed and run down to the door the day her son was gunned down just outside their home.
“It had to be a feeling that I had,” she said.
Carol Robinson, whose husband Carl Austin was shot and killed in 1994, still lives in the same apartment where she found 20-year-old Carl Austin Jr. lying in a pool of blood by the door June 22, 2013.
She said she won’t be able to live a normal life until the murder is solved.
“It hasn’t gotten any better at all,” Carol Robinson said. “Every day when I wake up in the morning, when I sit down, the first thing I think about is my son and the violent way he died. I’m never going to forget.”
It was a hot, sunny afternoon when a car drove down the 8600 block of South Kingston Avenue and bullets scored the facade of Carol Robinson’s home. Her son died on the scene, but two of his friends survived.
Carol Robinson said witnesses won’t come forward because her South Chicago community is fraught with gang activity and the threat of retaliation keeps people mum. Almost exactly a month after Austin’s death, his friend and pallbearer William Brown was fatally shot in the head.
The community tried to organize an anti-violence march in memory of the two young men, but the initiative failed because of divisions in the neighborhood.
“Everybody around here’s just gotten so used to it happening that it doesn’t even affect them anymore,” Carol Robinson said. “It’s just something to talk about for a few days and then that’s it.”
Police categorized the incident as gang-related. Carol Robinson remembers her son primarily as a peacemaker, someone who uplifted his family and encouraged his friends. He was her eldest son in a family of eight siblings — the “man of the house.”
“He was always happy, always smiling. I never understood how he could be so young and be so positive about life,” Carol Robinson said.
One of her fondest memories of Austin go back to a particularly stressful Christmas. Austin, who was 12 years old at the time, told her the family would be just fine without any gifts that year.
Shatawn Robinson, Austin’s sister, said becoming self-sufficient and providing for the family was a constant source of motivation for her brother. As the sibling closest in age to Austin, Shatawn Robinson, 23, said they would walk to school together every day as children.
“When we were having hard times with my mom, we would talk about how we needed to get our lives together, go to school, make something of ourselves so we could be able to support ourselves and not have to go through the same hardships our mom went through with money and how she doesn’t have anyone to depend on,” Shatawn Robinson said.
After he graduated from Bowen High School, Austin enrolled at Truman College with the intention of becoming a mechanic, a truck driver or a construction worker — anything that would let him work with his hands and have the chance for a comfortable life.
That’s what he used to tell his girlfriend, 19-year-old Diamond Arnold, who said Austin’s death challenged her to focus on her Chicago State University nursing degree, grow in her spirituality and do everything in her power to keep herself together.
From the moment Austin asked for her number on Facebook to the day of his death, they hardly spent a day apart, Arnold said. The couple babysat Austin’s nieces and nephews together and she went by his name as if they were a young married couple.
The day Austin was killed, he was supposed to attend Arnold’s high school graduation. He never made it, but she returned home in time to catch the sight of his body lying on the sidewalk.
Arnold said Austin motivated her to go to school and chase long-term dreams of finding work and getting married. Arnold, who goes by “Diamond Collegebound Austin” on Facebook, said she still feels like he’s still backing her up.
“He comes to me in my dreams a lot. They are so real and the conversations we have in every dream is like him getting shot and killed was the dream,” Arnold said. “When he comes, sometimes he’s smiling and I won’t know what he’s laughing about. Sometimes he comes and he’s just silent.”
For the waking moments, Arnold has Austin’s hat, a teddy bear she named “Carl” and a close relationship with his family.
“Before we got together, I thought there was something wrong with him because he would always look at me smiling,” she said. “I never thought I would love to just see him smile every day.”
Arnold said people talk about how quickly she appeared to bounce back and move on from Austin’s murder, how strange it is that she seems to be doing just fine. But Austin wouldn’t allow her give in to depression, she said, and nobody else needs to know about the panic attacks she still experiences.
As the anniversary of Austin’s death nears, those closest to him are coming up against another emotional bump. Yet Latoya Smith, Austin’s older sister who hired him as a live-in babysitter, is planning parties.
This year, Smith is having a barbecue at her mom’s house and is inviting all of Austin’s old friends to celebrate his memory.
“To this day, we can talk about him but you just gotta bring up the happy moments,” Smith said.
Smith, a mother of three, said the death of her brother has made her fear for her own son’s safety. She’s confident, however, that the presence of his father in his life would make all the difference.
“The gangs, they kind of make you think you need them,” Smith said. “You have to just let your family be your protectors and help you out.”
Shatawn Robinson said Austin had been forthright to the family about his gang affiliation. He told her he had no choice in joining because when certain gang members in the area attacked him, he needed affiliated friends to back him up.
Austin’s old friends still come by to apologize for his death, for bringing him into the gang when he wasn’t built for the streets, Shatawn Robinson said.
“He really didn’t have the heart for it. He never sold drugs, he never robbed. The things these guys did, he could never do it,” Shatawn said. “He had to go before he had a chance to do the things he promised he would.”
Carol Robinson said she understands why potential witnesses to her son’s murder would keep quiet out of fear, but she has a message for them, “Come forward, because it could have been your child. I know it’s not just because of what happened to me, but if I saw something like that and I knew how it was affecting the family, there’s nothing that could stop me from telling what I saw.”