By MAUDYNE IHEJIRIKA
This is a story about a Chicago cop, a mom, an SUV and an Englewood school that’s had to come to grips twice in the past year-and-a-half with the killing of a student off-campus.
Englewood’s Johnson College Prep was left reeling when Demario Bailey, a 15-year-old honor student, was shot to death on Dec. 13, 2014, gunned down when he and his twin brother, Demacio Bailey, who were on their way to school for a basketball game, were jumped and robbed. Authorities have charged four teenagers with first-degree murder.
The school community again was shaken last month by the May 14 killing of 15-year-old track star De’Kayla Dansberry, stabbed to death by a 13-year-old girl whose mother gave her a switchblade for a street brawl, according to police and prosecutors, who have charged both with murder.
Schools can’t protect students off-campus and after-hours from the spiraling violence that has resulted in nearly 300 killings so far this year in Chicago, says Matthew Brown, principal of Johnson College Prep, which is part of the Noble Network of Charter Schools.
“We feel very confident in our ability to keep them safe on campus and around campus,” Brown says. “But it’s a big city. We can’t be with them all the time.”
That’s where the cop and the mom come in. Demario’s death deeply affected Officer John Bertetto, who was assigned to the case. He got to know Demario’s twin brother and their mother, Delores Bailey.
Determined to try to prevent other parents from having to go through what she did, Delores Bailey had started a service to ferry neighborhood kids to and from extracurricular activities. Bertetto, 39, says he was inspired by her faith and her courage.
Bailey: “After the guys were caught, John came by a few times to check on Demacio. He’d just check in, saying, ‘Is everything fine? Are you guys OK?’ Then, after he found out what I was trying to do with helping to transport the kids, he said he wanted to help.”
Bertetto: “I waited until I was on vacation in February 2015 and launched the effort via social media, asking for the donation of an SUV. After several months and not having received a donation, I put the effort on the back burner. But in December 2015 I got a letter from a fellow Chicago Police officer. He’d heard what I was trying to do. He said that his kids attend Noble Network schools, and he had this SUV he’d bought for a second vehicle at home but would let me have it for what he just paid for it”—$3,000.
On his next vacation, in February, Bertetto launched an online GoFundMe campaign with the goal of raising $5,000, the extra $2,000 to cover refurbishing the seven-seat SUV.
By May, 152 people had contributed $5,550—mostly $10 here, another $25 there. It was enough to deliver the SUV just before the end of school, with $1,000 left for future upkeep.
Brown says the vehicle will be used to get students to and from school-sponsored, off-campus activities.
“It allows us to safely transport seven basketball players to a tournament, for example,” he says. “We have students attending all types of life skills-enrichment activities, internships. We tried different things, like having parents do dropoff and pickup at events. Or we’d say, ‘You have to get a ride.’ But that’s not always possible.
“This makes it easier for us to open opportunities to kids without worrying about safe passage. For a college prep that really wants to expose kids to all the city has to offer, his donation is very much appreciated.”
Bertetto, a South Sider, has gotten some attention for what he did, in part because he’s a cop and the police have come under scrutiny in Chicago lately.
“I understand why the interest that I’m a police officer,” he says. “But this is something I did on my free time. This is about Demario and what happened to him. This is not about me.”
Bailey, whose son was three days from turning 16 when he was killed, says of Bertetto: “People say and do things, and you never really know what their motives are. He wound up delivering and being a man of his word.
“He said he has a family and children, and what happened to my son touched his heart.
“This is just a good person. People talk about police all the time. But this shows there are some good police out here.”