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Mother finds strength to grieve shooting death of ‘fun and loving’ teen son during baloon release in Washington Park where 2 killed, 8 wounded

Khalil Denny, 19, was out with his friends watching a softball game last Tuesday at Washington Park when he was fatally shot.

It’s something he’d done a few times this summer, enjoy the game at the park near his home, said Lanette Denny, his mother. But Tuesday night’s game ended in tragedy.

“I guess our teenagers are not safe here in Chicago anymore,” Denny, 49, said Wednesday evening, standing not far from where her son was killed.

Just after 5 p.m., a group of about 50 people, most with Acclivus, released purple, white and black balloons in memory of those killed and injured last week. Acclivus, a community organization that works to reduce violence in Chicago’s most vulnerable neighborhoods, organized the event.

Earlier, at home, Lanette Denny had second thoughts and was not planning to attend the balloon release in honor of her son and of Lionel Coward, 43, who was also killed in the shooting. Eight others were injured.

But, with the support of Octavia Mitchell, founder of Heal Your Heart, an organization she created to support grieving mothers, Denny found the strength to go to the park.

Khalil Denny would have been 20 this Friday, and instead of celebrating his birthday, his family will be hosting his funeral.

Acclivus also organized the softball games at Washington Park and at other parks to promote peace in neighborhoods where residents experience high crime.

Last Tuesday, a fight that started in the parking lot spilled over to where community members, like Denny, were watching the game, said Gwen Baxter, a patient follow-up coordinator and trauma response specialist with Acclivus.

A shoe salesperson, Khalil Denny was a “fun and loving person” who loved shoes and shopping, his mother said. He was getting ready for his upcoming birthday, and he’d just gotten a new bottle of cologne Tuesday night, his mother said.

“He sprayed it all over himself,” she said. “Everybody that was here … said ‘He just hugged me. He told me he loved me.’ I said, ‘cause he just put on that Dior cologne he just got.’”

Khalil was her youngest of seven children and the second son she’s lost.

Eight years ago exactly, on Sept. 21, 2014, she lost her second youngest son, 16-year-old Vincent Denny. He would be 24-years-old now.

Denny has been part of Mitchell’s group and has helped organize events for other grieving mothers.

Now grieving two of her sons, Denny would like to move to a new home with fewer neighbors and some privacy, she said. She’s been on the Section 8 waiting list since 2008, she said. She’s lived in the same apartment since 1998.

“I definitely can’t sit on the porch or walk to the park or nothing,” Denny said. “Definitely can’t come to the park.”

Mitchell said she’s tired of attending vigils and balloon releases.

“What do we do? How does it stop? When does it stop?” Mitchell said. “Who’s gonna help us? Who’s trying to help us? I’m constantly asking for help.”

She said she would like government leaders to help provide funding for women to seek counseling, cover health care costs, provide benefits for grieving mothers and help them with relocation costs, especially those who are low-income like Denny.

“You want them to lose their child, bury their child, two weeks later go back to work,” Mitchell said. “How is that? How?”

She said she would like a bill passed in Springfield that would provide those benefits for mothers who have lost their children.

Baxter said the Chicago Park District has since revoked the group’s permit, despite the shooting not being connected to the softball game.

Acclivus contacts police and the corresponding alderperson when they plan to host a game, Baxter said. She called for the park district to reinstate the organization’s permits to host games.

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“To take this away it’s like you want to continue the violence,” Baxter said. “People were coming together.”

The games get community out and to get to know one another, and get police to see community members in a positive space, said Barron Neal, Washington Heights supervisor with Acclivus.

“The goal of the game is just to keep peace,” he said. “It’s just to get the community engaged.”

Illinois State Rep. Kam Buckner said government leaders need to invest in communities to provide more safe spaces.

“Everyone in this city deserves safe spaces to be able to congregate and to come together and have fun,” Buckner said. “Unfortunately, what we have seen is that more and more times, the powers that be have taken those spaces from us.”

He called for elected officials to invest funding to address gun violence the same way government invested in addressing COVID-19.

“If we do not release funds,” Buckner said. “We will continue to release balloons.”

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