- Associated Press - Saturday, September 12, 2020

NEW LENOX, Ill. (AP) - Bright orange, yellow and red flowers in planters provide a stark contrast to the dry, brown and matted grass surrounding a cross that anchors a memorial to Charlie Baird in New Lenox.

His mother, Jennifer Baird, makes daily trips from her nearby home to the place where her 19-year-old son was fatally shot in May. She waters the flowers, trims the plants and grieves the sudden loss of her middle child.

“This is really the only place anyone can go to have a moment with him,” she said. “I don’t have him buried anywhere because of the fact that it happened so suddenly.”

Charlie’s ashes are in an urn at the home where he lived with his parents, older sister and younger brother. The memorial is at the Circle K gas station at 471 N. Nelson Road, where he stopped for fuel and a beverage on his way home shortly after midnight the morning of May 11.

“I just wanted a place where people could go to, even though it’s the place where it happened,” his mother said.

Eventually, she said, Charlie’s remains likely will be laid to rest in a little Methodist cemetery near their home.

“Right now I can’t let him go,” she said. “He’s got to be here with me because of the way it happened.”

After the family enjoyed a Mother’s Day dinner together, Charlie went out with friends, she said. His parents didn’t wait up. They were awakened in the middle of the night when police knocked on their door.

Police told them Charlie was in critical condition at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox. He had been shot once in the lower back. He died three days later at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.

Only immediate family could gather to mourn because of stay-at-home guidelines due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We couldn’t have a proper funeral or wake for him because of COVID,” Baird said. “I knew if coronavirus wasn’t happening and we had a regular service the whole town would have been there.”

Charlie had graduated from Lincoln-Way West High School and worked as a cook at a Red Robin restaurant in Orland Park.

Soon after Charlie’s death, Baird received a message from a friend and classmate of Charlie’s. Nathan McAvoy, 19, asked if anyone was thinking about making a cross for the site. Baird said no, but she thought it was a great idea.

“He said he was on it,” she said. “I asked him if he took woodworking in high school. He said no, he just researched it.”

McCoy initially placed a wooden cross at the site in early June. People stopped by and placed bouquets of flowers and trinkets. Baird decorated the cross with pictures of Charlie with his family.

Charlie’s obituary mentioned that when he was a boy, he loved dinosaurs and Legos.

“On the cross there is a picture of him with sister. He’s wearing a dinosaur sweater,” Baird said. “He had a lot of dinosaur pajamas. When we’d give him a bath he’d have all his dinosaurs lined up on the tub. You could point to a dinosaur and he’d know the name. He was very into dinosaurs from a young age.”

The cross gave people a place to visit and pay respects to Charlie.

“It’s a community display,” said David Baird, Charlie’s father.

Flowers, a candle, a solar-powered light and lawn ornaments are part of a memorial for Charlie Baird, 19, at the place where he was fatally shot during an alleged carjacking attempt May 11.

But Charlie’s mother worried that the fresh flowers would soon perish.

“I said, ‘This is ridiculous.’ I’ll put a planter here. That way it will last longer,” she said. “It’s almost like my therapy, for me. I go up there, have a little chat with him, water his flowers, and say, ‘Have a good day, boy.’”

Someone suggested to McAvoy that the cross should be treated with an epoxy finish to protect it from the elements. He retrieved the cross and finished it with a shiny protective coating. But it darkened the wood and made it nearly impossible to read the inscriptions of Charlie’s name and the dates of his birth and passing.

McAvoy texted Baird and said he wanted to make another cross.

“He said he didn’t like the way it turned out,” she said. “It was too dark. You couldn’t see his name. He’s like a perfectionist.”

McAvoy made a new cross and recently installed it.

“It’s even nicer now,” Baird said. “When these flowers die off we’re going to decorate it for fall. Every season we’ll try to decorate it as much as we can. Winter season will be harder.”

Baird recently posted in a social media community for New Lenox that she appreciated how a total stranger offered condolences one day when she visited the memorial.

“I was in my car, ready to leave,” Baird said. “And she rolled down her window. She said, ‘I heard your story and my heart aches for you.’ That’s when the tears started rolling (from) my eyes. It’s just the little gestures of people I don’t know who stop and say, ‘I think about your son.’”

The violent crime shocked the community. The gas station is next to a Jewel grocery store and overlooks busy Lincoln Highway. It is near a cinema complex and located about a half mile from the police station and Village Hall.

“This doesn’t happen in my town,” Baird said.

Charlie’s death was the first homicide in the village in nearly 20 years, said Mayor Tim Baldermann, a former police chief in Chicago Ridge.

“Losing a child, you feel like there’s nothing you can say that could be helpful with the grieving process,” Baldermann said.

If there is a silver lining, it is in the kindness of strangers showing support for the family and how community members have reached out to offer comfort, he said.

“It sometimes takes horrible events to realize the good around you,” he said.

Dave Baird, left, watches as his wife, Jennifer Baird, waters flowers Saturday at a memorial where their son, Charlie, was fatally shot on May 11. Charlie Baird’s friend, Nathan McAvoy, 19, right, made the wooden cross that achors the display at a Circle K gas station, 471 Nelson Road, New Lenox.

A 16-year-old Harvey boy faces first-degree murder charges in connection with Charlie’s slaying. Police said the apparent motivation for the attack was the juvenile’s desire to steal the 2012 Subaru that Charlie was driving.

The juvenile and two others arrived at the Circle K in a Hyundai Santa Fe that was stolen in Lockport two days earlier, police said. Charlie was inside the convenience store when the juvenile tried the door to the Subaru, but it was locked.

When Charlie came out, he exchanged words with the alleged assailant.

“I don’t know what was said,” Baird said. “I think when (Charlie) saw the gun he turned and started to run.”

Tending the memorial helps Baird grieve her son. She notices as soon as something new has been left at the memorial. She can tell from the trampled ground that many people have stopped by to mourn Charlie.

“I go every morning to water, especially when it’s this hot out,” she said. “There’s no shade. It’s full sun. I go every single morning.”


Source: The (Tinley Park) Daily Southtown, https://bit.ly/32TOGMi

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