AUBURN GRESHAM — When LaNiyah Murphy was shot in 2018, she didn’t want to talk about it when she returned to school. Her teachers at Perspectives High School of Technology in Chatham had been asked not to discuss it in classes.
Composition teacher Monica Connor said despite what the then-16-year-old had been through, she quickly discovered what most others knew about the 11th grader: She was sassy and passionate, brilliant and kind, supportive and selfless.
That spirit led Murphy to channel her traumatic experience into anti-violence advocacy, friends and family said. She joined organizations like BRAVE (Bold Resistance Against Violence Everywhere) Youth Leaders, a violence prevention youth council at Saint Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham. Before long, she was promoting its initiatives across the country as one of the group’s core members.
“She was easily the smartest person in the room,” Connor said at a Friday memorial for Murphy. “Not only did LaNiyah Murphy excel in academics, but she was genuinely kind and supportive. If I needed her help with anything, she was there. The most selfless person that I could think of, she was absolutely a gem. And she did it all effortlessly.”
Friends and family gathered Friday at The Ark of St. Sabina, 7800 S. Racine Ave., to honor Murphy, 20, who was fatally shot this week in West Pullman.
The shooting happened about 6 p.m. Tuesday in the 12200 block of South Wallace Street, according to police. Murphy was sitting in a car with someone she knew when the two argued and the other person shot her, the spokesperson said. Murphy was pronounced dead at the scene.
Police did not give a description of the attacker, and no one has been arrested. Detectives are investigating.
Those who knew Murphy said there’s more to the story about how she was killed. Her aunt, Danita Huff, said Murphy was taking a friend home when she was shot.
“If anyone knows LaNiyah, LaNiyah was always willing to help a hand,” Huff said. “So on that day, she was helping a friend to take them home. She wasn’t just sitting in a car. She was doing just what she does to help someone, and someone took her life from us.”
In a tearful farewell ceremony, friends and family demanded justice for Murphy and released purple balloons, shouting her name as the balloons floated into the frigid, blue sky.
Murphy was the salutatorian of her graduating class at Perspectives in 2020 and was a freshman at Governors State University in University Park.
Friends and family said Murphy helped anyone in need, no matter the circumstances. When Teyonna Lofton was shot in the arm, Murphy was immediately by her side to support her.
“She was a healer,” Lofton said. “She helped me. She talked me through it. She rode with me in the car to the hospital. LaNiyah was there. LaNiyah held pressure on my arm. She was there. She’s a helper. She’s a healer. She’s a friend. She was so much more than the sassy girl, a pretty face, or a dancer. LaNiyah was put on earth for everybody in this room.”
Murphy also inspired people throughout the city’s anti-violence community and beyond, Huff said. Her work with BRAVE spanned the city, and took her to D.C. and Purdue University in Indiana. In 2019, Murphy helped organize a demonstration at the White House, organizer Lamar Johnson Jr. said.
“… She knew firsthand of how gun violence costs lives and cuts generations short, and how unnecessary pain and heartache it causes to families and friends,” Huff said. “She wanted us to imagine what we could accomplish as a community, skin color and kinfolk if we just come together to build safer communities and instill love back in our hearts.”
Pamela Bosley, a violence prevention manager at Saint Sabina and co-founder of Purpose Over Pain, a group founded by Chicago parents who have lost children to gun violence, urged city officials to form a task force to solve Murphy’s murder.
“Catch the shooters just like you caught the looters,” she said, referring to people who damaged stores following George Floyd protests.
Violent crime has surged in Chicago in the past two years, with at least 800 people killed in the city in 2021. Lofton said local leaders have failed her friend and countless others like Murphy.
“How many of us have to die? How many of us have to get shot for you to stand up and make a change? … ” Lofton said.
St. Sabina officials are offering a $5,000 reward to anyone who can help solve Murphy’s case.
“Our babies are dying,” Connor said. “Black people are dying. And in many cases, it’s us that are killing us. Wake up, Come forward. Just stop.”
Father Michael Pfleger ended the tribute to Murphy with a message for those involved in her killing.
“We will not allow you to continue to terrorize our communities and kill our children,” Pfleger said. “We’ve lost too much. It’s time to stop.”
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