By ELIZABETH CZAPSKI
Homicide Watch Chicago
When DeAndre Holiday’s family and friends talk about who he was, they all say one thing: He loved football.
As a kid, his father Renee Canady recalled, Holiday would pretend to put football pads on his shoulders and say, “Dad, I’m gonna play, I’m gonna play!”
When he reached fifth grade, Holiday joined the Southside Wolfpack Youth Football Program. He was shy at first, but “he turned out to be one of our most inspirational football players in the program,” Wolfpack coach Ernest Radcliffe said.
Holiday was a leader and a motivator on and off the field, helping carry his team through playoff games and a city championship. Radcliffe remembered a playoff game where, with over 1,000 fans cheering for the Wolfpack, Holiday ran onto the field and made “the biggest hit of all.”
Holiday left the team when he started playing football at Hyde Park High School, but he never forgot the Wolfpack. Radcliffe said he ran into Holiday between Christmas 2015 and New Year’s, and Holiday mentioned he wanted to come back and coach the team. “He was just so appreciative of us staying on and making sure he turned out to be a fine young man,” Radcliffe said.
The two men promised to stay in touch. That was the last time Radcliffe saw Holiday.
On Jan. 1, 2016, Holiday, 24, got into a fight with someone in the 4600 block of South St. Lawrence in the Grand Boulevard neighborhood and that person pulled out a gun and fired shots at 2:20 a.m., according to Chicago Police and the Cook County medical examiner’s office. The shooter then ran away.
Holiday, of the 5100 block of South Indiana, was pronounced dead at the scene.
A second person, a 38-year-old man, was also struck by the gunfire and later showed up at Provident Hospital with a gunshot wound to the hand, police said.
Holiday’s death was the first reported homicide of 2016 in Chicago.
His mother, Gwendolyn Holiday, recalled that around two or three o’clock in the morning on Jan. 1, a friend of her son’s and some others she didn’t recognize came to her door and told her DeAndre had been shot. “I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? DeAndre’s in his room’,” she said. “So I walked to his room and opened the door, and he wasn’t there. I kind of lost it.”
Gwendolyn Holiday went to the scene. “All I could remember [was] seeing my child on the ground, with a sheet over him,” she said.
According to Gwendolyn Holiday, her son went to a New Year’s party with his girlfriend, who got into an altercation with one of her cousins. Holiday tried to break up the fight, and the cousin’s father thought Holiday pushed his daughter. More people attacked Holiday, and he knocked two of them out. As Holiday and his girlfriend left, a man from the party walked up to the car they were in. Holiday got out and the man shot him.
Gwendolyn Holiday goes to the police station periodically to find out if they have any suspects. “[The police] have an idea who it is, but they don’t have anyone to place [the suspect] at the scene, so it’s been a struggle,” she said.
Holiday said her son was not involved in a gang, although some of his friends were. “They wouldn’t let him be involved in anything that was not right,” she said. “They wanted him to do better.”
DeAndre Holiday’s godmother, Donna Woods, described him as loving, giving, caring, active and motivated. “Family was very important to him,” she said.
Holiday had three children: two boys, six and five years of age, respectively; and a girl, age 14 months. His mother and Woods both said he was an “excellent” father.
“His boys adored their dad; still today, all they talk about is their father. He made sure that they had what they needed, and he went out of his way to make sure that they were okay,” Gwendolyn Holiday said.
“He spent a lot of time with his children and…although they were from different mothers, it was important that they all were together, and that they knew each other. He was a provider,” Woods said.
It wasn’t just his children who adored him. According to Woods, Holiday’s funeral was “standing-room-only.”
“I honestly did not realize how much that boy was loved by so many people until we went to the funeral and all these people showed up,” Gwendolyn Holiday said. “I didn’t know how many other people he had touched…I never knew that my son had this many people that really respected him and looked up to him.”
In addition to the funeral, there was a memorial at the crime scene, Holiday said. The Wolfpack honored DeAndre at a homecoming game with a prayer and a balloon release, and again at a team banquet, where they retired his jersey, Radcliffe said. Holiday’s number, 40, gained a special significance that day.
“Whoever wears number 40, their job is they have to be as inspirational as DeAndre,” Radcliffe said. “They have to touch lives like young DeAndre did.”
Radcliffe hopes he can coach Holiday’s son once he is old enough. “We just keep pushing to try to save as many lives as possible because it’s so tough out here, and you need the sports programs and other programs in order for that to happen,” he said.
Canady expressed concern about young people in the city, saying there is a lack of guidance. “It’s kind of hard trying to be a youngster in this day and age,” he said. “If the gangs don’t get you, the streets will get you.”