Mourners gather to pray on Kostner Avenue at Wilcox Street in Chicago after three people were shot in the area, two of them fatally, on March 31, 2016. Dejenaba Altman, 43, and Demetrius "DJ" Tolliver, 23, were killed in the shooting. Nearly a year later, Altman’s son Romille McCall, 23, died of injuries from a shooting in Austin.

At 3:51 a.m. Friday, I received a Facebook message from a young woman I recently met.

Something was weighing heavily on her mind, and she couldn’t sleep.

She titled the short message, "my reality."

On this day last year, a friend of hers was killed after being caught in the crossfire of a shooting in West Garfield Park. On Thursday, that same woman’s son died of injuries from another shooting in Austin. Their deaths occurred exactly 364 days apart.

"I wonder if my city is cursed, and I’m confused, wondering is there really a God?" Regina Clark wrote.

I didn’t know how to answer, so I said nothing.

I am broken. I feel empty. That was my family and it was just us. I feel like I’m alone now. — Tyshawnda McCall

How many times have I seen the anguished faces of women who have lost a loved one to violence? How many times have I watched videos of wailing mothers, collapsing in someone’s arms upon learning of the death of their sons? Too many to count.

Later that morning, I decided to ask 26-year-old Tyshawnda McCall what she thought about Regina’s remark. It was McCall’s mother, Dejenaba Altman, 43, and her younger brother, Romille McCall, 23, who were killed in those shootings. But she was just as much a victim.

Through her tears, she told me that she doesn’t know what to believe anymore. She was just beginning to break out of the shell that she used as a shield following her mother’s death. And now she’s facing another tragedy.

"I feel very numb. I don’t know what to feel or what to believe in," Tyshawnda McCall said. "I am broken. I feel empty. That was my family and it was just us. I feel like I’m alone now."

McCall lived in an apartment in DeKalb with her mother and only brother. Her mother moved her two children to the town 65 miles west of downtown Chicago two years ago to escape the violence of the city, she said. She and her brother grew up on the West Side, once living on the block where her mother was killed.

Still, Romille McCall continued to get into trouble with the police, mostly involving drug-related offenses.

On March 31, 2016, Altman had been standing outside in the 4300 block of West Wilcox Street when four people got out of a van and opened fire, police said. She was shot in the back and died before reaching the hospital.

The shooting, which also claimed the life of former Farragut High School basketball standout Demetrius "DJ" Tolliver, occurred across the street from an elementary school, around 4 p.m. while children were in the area. A 16-year-old boy who was standing with the group was shot in the leg and injured. Months later, a gang member was charged in the shootings.

Romille McCall’s death just one day shy of the anniversary of his mother’s killing seemed like a cruel act of fate.

The young man was shot on Wednesday while in a vehicle in the 5100 block of West Chicago Avenue. Though suffering from gunshots to the back and arm, he was able to get himself to the hospital. He died Thursday afternoon.

"I tried to move away from Chicago to avoid this. I tried my best," said Tyshawnda McCall.

She suffered a lot after her mother’s death. She dropped out of community college, where she was studying to become a certified nursing assistant. She also ran a little day care business that she put on hold.

Shortly before her brother was killed, the two of them had been planning a small memorial for their mother, she said.

"One minute, I’m talking to him about mom’s one-year memorial and the next, I got to prepare for his funeral," she said, breaking down in tears. "I’m trying to stay as strong as I can."

She said she plans to devote her attention to her brother’s 3-year-old daughter, whom she called "my princess." She will do it, she said, because life goes on, in spite of setbacks.

Clark, the Facebook friend who messaged me Friday morning, also grew up on the West Side. She currently lives in Plano, but she still visits friends and relatives in her old Austin neighborhood. Her younger brother, she said, was McCall’s best friend and was with him at the hospital when he died.

She told me that people outside communities where violence persists have no idea what it’s like to regularly lose friends and relatives. Since she was 15, Clark says she has attended the funerals for more than 30 people lost to violence.

"If I told them what it was like, they would think I was lying," said Clark, 37.

She’s right. Many people find the carnage going on in our city hard to believe. We can’t fathom the pain that people like Tyshawnda and Regina feel. They pay an emotional toll that most of us would find unbearable.

It is no wonder that a recent Northwestern Medicine study found that large numbers of African-American women living in disadvantaged neighborhoods suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

According to the survey, conducted with 72 black women in Chicago’s South Side neighborhood of Oakland, 29 percent have the disorder and another 7 percent exhibited a large number of signs of PTSD. Researchers pointed out the need for more mental health services and screenings in vulnerable neighborhoods.

That certainly would help ease some of the pain. Meanwhile, people like Tyshawnda McCall will continue to suffer in silence.

"People need to know this hurts," she said. "It’s just senseless violence, for nothing."

Twitter @dahleeng

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