‘I’m still scared’

As 7-year-old girl who saw her fa­ther killed strug­gles to process shoot­ing that hurt her too, fam­ily fears they won’t see jus­tice

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Laura Ro­dríguez Presa

Seven-year-old Evelyn Cis­neros qui­etly scrolled through pic­tures of her fa­ther on a phone and stopped at a snap­shot taken at Dis­ney­land two years ago. She is smil­ing in that one.

Her pony­tail still mussed from sleep­ing, Evelyn cud­dled up on her mother’s lap. Her sis­ters, Liz­beth, 13, and Ni­cole, 2, bunched around her along with their grand­par­ents, un­cles and aunts in the Lo­gan Square home where the fam­ily has lived since mov­ing from Jalisco, Mex­ico, nearly 30 years ago.

Her fa­ther was not there.

Fer­min Cis­neros, 36, was shot and killed in front of Evelyn two days ear­lier. Evelyn was in the back­seat of the fam­ily’s gray van as Cis­neros was driv­ing home from a party cel­e­brat­ing the open­ing of a rel­a­tive’s day care cen­ter in Hum­boldt Park early in the morn­ing of Feb. 9. He had barely pulled away when three shots were fired from a pass­ing car. Cis­neros slumped over, and his hands dropped from the steer­ing wheel.

As his wife, Mar­ilu Cis­neros, strug­gled to stop the van, she heard Evelyn cry out, “It hurts, it hurts.” The lit­tle girl had been grazed in the back by one of the bul­lets.

“It all hap­pened so fast,” his wife said. A tear rolled down her cheek, and she held her daugh­ter a lit­tle tighter.

The girl was mostly silent. “I’m still scared,” Evelyn said in Span­ish, with­out look­ing up.

The fam­ily had gath­ered to both re­mem­ber Fer­min Cis­neros and to call for jus­tice. “They didn’t just kill my brother, they af­fected and broke our whole fam­ily,” Guillermo Cis­neros said. “His three daugh­ters will never

for­get see­ing their fa­ther die.”

Just two years ago, Fer­min Cis­neros opened a small busi­ness and was ren­o­vat­ing a build­ing in hopes of mov­ing his fam­ily there this sum­mer. He took care of his par­ents and his sis­ter, a sin­gle mother, and her 15-year-old daugh­ter. Ex­cept for his sis­ter, they were all in the van when the shots were fired.

Adding to their grief, the fam­ily fears that Cis­neros’ death will go un­solved. Sev­eral rel­a­tives ex­pressed anger that po­lice men­tioned Cis­neros’ mi­nor crim­i­nal record from more than 15 years ago.

“As if that jus­ti­fied the killing,” said an­other brother, Martin Cis­neros, shak­ing his head. He hadn’t slept since the shoot­ing. His wife, Maria, sat by his side and held his hand in the din­ing room.

“They think that just be­cause we are Lati­nos, any sort of crim­i­nal record means that they de­serve to die like that,” Maria Cis­neros said with teary eyes.

Chicago po­lice told the Tri­bune they do not have a mo­tive for Cis­neros’ shoot­ing and have no ev­i­dence that he or any­one else in the fam­ily van was a tar­get. Still, the de­part­ment’s me­dia af­fairs of­fice has re­peat­edly vol­un­teered that Cis­neros “was known to po­lice.” A spokesman later apol­o­gized to the fam­ily and said the de­part­ment only meant that noth­ing was be­ing ruled out as they worked to solve the case.

“We are good peo­ple,” said Cis­neros’ fa­ther, Vi­cente Cis­neros, 79. “All my sons, like my­self, came here to work and take care of our fam­i­lies.”

‘We had so many plans’

Fer­min Cis­neros was the youngest of nine chil­dren. His fa­ther im­mi­grated to the United States through the Bracero Pro­gram that im­ported la­bor from Mex­ico. Vi­cente Cis­neros even­tu­ally brought all his chil­dren to live in Chicago. In 2017, Fer­min Cis­neros was nat­u­ral­ized as a U.S. cit­i­zen.

He grew up in the Lo­gan Square neigh­bor­hood at a time when street vi­o­lence was more ac­tive there. Af­ter some brushes with the law when he was young, he straight­ened out, fell in love with a neigh­bor and mar­ried her.

The cou­ple raised their three daugh­ters in the home where he grew up. They lived in the base­ment apart­ment, one of his broth­ers and his fam­ily lived on the first floor, and his par­ents lived on the sec­ond floor.

Along with his broth­ers, Cis­neros mostly worked in con­struc­tion jobs. Af­ter years of sav­ing up, he was able to open a small botan­i­cal shop with one of his broth­ers two years ago not far from his old neigh­bor­hood. He also bought a build­ing that was be­ing ren­o­vated for his wife, daugh­ters and his par­ents.

Cis­neros was known for his laid-back style and charis­matic per­son­al­ity, his brother Guillermo Cis­neros said. Friends and loved ones called him “el cocinero” (the cook) “be­cause he would get to a fam­ily party, or any place, and go straight to the kitchen to help cook. No one would get him out,” his brother said, laugh­ing.

On Thurs­days and Sun­days, Cis­neros played soc­cer with one of his broth­ers. And most days he would take his girls with him to watch the games. The fam­ily re­mem­bered the time Cis­neros went to see his fa­vorite team, Las Chivas, play. There’s a photo of Cis­neros smil­ing in a red and white striped jersey.

Liz­beth, his old­est daugh­ter, smiled as she looked at the photo. Her fa­ther took her to school every morn­ing. “I’m go­ing to miss him,” she said.

Two weeks ago, Cis­neros and his fam­ily were get­ting ready to cel­e­brate his niece’s quinceañer­a, the tra­di­tional com­ing-of-age cer­e­mony for her 15th birth­day, on Feb. 20.

The fam­ily was also plan­ning a visit to Mex­ico to­gether for the first time in decades.

“We had so many plans,” Mar­ilu Cis­neros cried, hold­ing on to her younger daugh­ters in the apart­ment dec­o­rated with im­ages of Catholic saints and vo­tive can­dles.

Fer­min Cis­neros’ mother, Matilde Chavez, 74, sat on a rock­ing chair near the win­dow, her hand on her fore­head.

‘This un­fair pain’

The voice of Fer­min’s 79-yearold fa­ther, Vi­cente Cis­neros, cracked as he re­counted the des­per­ate mo­ments in­side the van when the shots rang out.

The fam­ily had been cel­e­brat­ing the open­ing of Nur­tur­ing Niche, a day care cen­ter started by one of their rel­a­tives in the 2600 block of West Di­vi­sion Street in Hum­boldt Park. The grand­fa­ther said the fam­ily stayed late be­cause they were en­joy­ing them­selves, not leav­ing un­til shortly be­fore 3 a.m. Fer­min Cis­neros had not driven two blocks when some­one shot at their van from be­hind in the 1300 block of North Rock­well Street, ac­cord­ing to a po­lice re­port.

The girls be­gan to cry hys­ter­i­cally, the grand­fa­ther re­called. Evelyn was sit­ting in the back seat next to him and her grand­mother. Her 12-year-old sis­ter was in the last row with her 14-year-old cousin, who was hold­ing Evelyn’s 2-year-old sis­ter. Cis­neros’ wife was next to her hus­band in the front pas­sen­ger seat.

“As I was try­ing to hold my son and telling his wife to stop the car, then we re­al­ized that Evelyn and I were cov­ered in blood,” Vi­cente Cis­neros said. Po­lice ar­rived within 10 min­utes and, shortly af­ter, the paramedics.

“I got out of the van and took the girl with me, cov­ered in blood. She had been hurt. We didn’t know what was go­ing on, but po­lice es­corted us away from the scene, and took my son and my grand­daugh­ter in the am­bu­lance,” he said. “We didn’t know how my son or Evelyn were do­ing un­til we ar­rived at the hos­pi­tal.”

The night of the shoot­ing, Vi­cente’s wife, Matilde, was ad­mit­ted to Stroger Hos­pi­tal for med­i­cal is­sues from the shock.

“He wasn’t a crim­i­nal, my son was a good man,” she cried in Span­ish over and over from her hos­pi­tal bed. “Why did they do this to us?”

Nearly two weeks af­ter the shoot­ing, Chicago po­lice re­ported no leads and had re­leased no de­scrip­tion of the car or shooter. The po­lice re­port said there may have been cam­eras on Rock­well that cap­tured the shoot­ing, but po­lice have not re­leased any sur­veil­lance im­ages.

Po­lice spokesman An­thony Guglielmi said de­tec­tives are look­ing at Fer­min Cis­ceros’ back­ground for any clues to the shoot­ing. Cis­neros was ar­rested four times be­tween 2000 and 2004, when he was in his late teens and early 20s. His first two ar­rests were for crim­i­nal tres­pass, but the charges were dropped. He was ar­rested in 2002 for pos­ses­sion of bur­glary tools and pleaded guilty, and he was given court su­per­vi­sion. His last ar­rest was for pos­ses­sion of mar­i­juana, but that charge was dropped too.

Asked what in Cis­neros’ record would help de­tec­tives, Guglielmi said, “whether re­cent or decades­old, (a crim­i­nal his­tory) could be a fac­tor, and that’s of­ten where de­tec­tives have to start the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Guglielmi said the de­part­ment did not in­tend to de­mean Cis­neros. “We are the ad­vo­cate for the vic­tim, re­gard­less of their his­tory with po­lice,” he said. “Many of them may or may not have it, but it doesn’t mat­ter to the in­ves­ti­ga­tors as they try to solve the case.”

Still, the Cis­neros fam­ily wor­ries that Cis­neros’ life is be­ing crim­i­nal­ized and his death, like those of other Latino im­mi­grants, will be for­got­ten.

“We have been keep­ing each other strong,” said Cis­neros’ only sis­ter, Reme­dios, sit­ting on the couch and ca­ress­ing Evelyn’s face. Her brother, she said, was like a fa­ther to her own daugh­ter.

“We are bro­ken, our pain will never go away,” she said. “And this is go­ing to keep hap­pen­ing to other fam­i­lies if the shoot­ers aren’t found.”

AR­MANDO L. SANCHEZ/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

Evelyn Cis­neros, from left, sits with her mom, Mar­ilu, and sis­ters Ni­cole and Liz­beth at their grand­par­ents’ home in Chicago.

Fer­min Cis­neros was killed on Feb. 9 while driv­ing with his fam­ily in the Hum­boldt Park neigh­bor­hood. His daugh­ter Evelyn was wounded.

AR­MANDO L. SANCHEZ/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

Evelyn Cis­neros, 7, left, plays with her sis­ter Ni­cole, 2, while sit­ting in their mom’s lap. Evelyn was wounded in the shoot­ing that took her dad’s life.

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