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Behind the Bullets

Gun violence in Chicago kills hundreds every year. One photographer found a way to remember the victims.


Photographs by Jim Young

The killings happened on front porches, basketball courts, even the steps of a church. They happened everywhere. The statistics? Unfathomable. Of the 650 homicides in Chicago last year, more than 90 percent involved guns. Since 1995, the city’s murder rate has sometimes exceeded that of New York and Los Angeles combined, making Chicago emblematic of America’s gun-violence epidemic and, also, a flashpoint in the debate over how to fight it: Chicago has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, but weapons continue to flow in from nearby states with far looser restrictions.


But in many ways, the statistics don’t tell the story. Photojournalist Jim Young spent six months last year visiting crime scenes and memorials, hoping to learn more about the victims beyond the numbers. His camera: a Fujifilm Instax Wide which, like Polaroids and other instant cameras, captures images on self-developing prints. Instant cameras are typically used to celebrate life — popular at birthday parties, reunions, graduations, and other joyous events. But Young's haunting prints, just 4 x 5 inches and labeled with the victims’ names inked on the bottom borders, are tangible reminders of what has been lost. “Though most of the [memorials] are gone,” Young says, “their photographs will be forever, and I hope memories [of the victims] will be, too.”


(Pictured: A cross for Jawon Garrett sits among dozens of other crosses at a makeshift memorial for victims of violence. Known to friends as “Doola," Garrett, 40, died from multiple gunshots on Sept. 13, 2017.)

US-CRIME-HOMICIDE-PHOTOGRAPHY-CHICAGO Jim Young/AFP/Getty Images


The hardest-hit areas of Chicago are the South and West sides, two predominantly African-American neighborhoods struggling with poverty and gang activity. Most of the victims are black men. Like 50-year-old Sedrick Ringer, who was sitting on a friend’s porch in the South Side, sipping a beer to kick off the July Fourth weekend, when two armed men walked up to the home and began firing. Ringer was struck nine times. His friend, 30-year-old Javon Jackson, was also shot and died later at the hospital. The next day, inside the home, relatives discovered the body of John Hunter, 52, likely hit by a ricocheting bullet. A total of 43 shell casings were found at the scene (pictured).

US-CRIME-HOMICIDE-PHOTOGRAPHY-CHICAGO Jim Young/AFP/Getty Images


Joshua Rayborn, 28, was shot outside his home in Bridgeport on Sept. 18, 2017. A husband with two children, Rayborn was also a popular local hip-hop star performing under the name Rate YK. On his Facebook page, Rayborn wrote that he made music with the goal to “take listeners on a journey to see life through his eyes and what it’s like to grow up and fit every stereotype, but still maintain dreams of making it out.”

US-CRIME-HOMICIDE-PHOTOGRAPHY-CHICAGO Jim Young/AFP/Getty Images


On Sept. 21, Manuel Hernandez was in a car when a minivan pulled up beside him. Someone in that van opened fire, killing the 30-year-old father of two girls. Pictured: the shattered glass of a nearby restaurant, hit by a stray bullet.

US-CRIME-HOMICIDE-PHOTOGRAPHY-CHICAGO Jim Young/AFP/Getty Images


Angelique Morris, 17, planned to graduate high school early. She wanted to go to college and become a special education teacher, a dream that stemmed from an experience working with special-needs students. On July 8, Morris’ boyfriend, 17, accidentally shot her in the face while handling a gun. He was sentenced to juvenile detention for involuntary manslaughter.

US-CRIME-HOMICIDE-PHOTOGRAPHY-CHICAGO Jim Young/AFP/Getty Images


Twin sisters Addison and Makayla Henning loved riding their bikes. They were just shy of 6 years old when their mother, Celisa Henning, shot them in a murder-suicide on Aug. 31, 2017. The twins’ grandmother said Celisa Henning had suffered health issues resulting from a car crash in 2015.

US-CRIME-HOMICIDE-PHOTOGRAPHY-CHICAGO Jim Young/AFP/Getty Images


Damien Santoyo, 14, was killed by shots fired from a car while he stood on the steps of an apartment with two other boys on Aug. 6. His killers had reportedly yelled gang slogans as they drove by, but relatives said Santoyo was not involved in any gang activity. A football player in junior high school, he was weeks from beginning high school.

US-CRIME-HOMICIDE-PHOTOGRAPHY-CHICAGO Jim Young/AFP/Getty Images


Irving Estrada was playing basketball with friends on Aug. 22, in Cicero, a suburb of Chicago, when three teens approached him and opened fire. At a vigil on the basketball court where he was shot, family and friends remembered Estrada as athletic and funny. No one understood why he was a target.

US-CRIME-HOMICIDE-PHOTOGRAPHY-CHICAGO Jim Young/AFP/Getty Images


As Emmanuel Fleming, 34, and Michael Swift, 46, walked up the steps of the Friendship Baptist Church for Sunday sermon on Aug. 13, armed men approached them and opened fire. Fleming’s three children, who were with him at the time, watched their father being gunned down at the church where they had been baptized. Pictured: A man holds a sign at an anti-violence march in response to the shootings.