CHICAGO — Ten-year-old Tavon Tanner was sitting on the porch eating potato chips in early August when a stray bullet hit him in the back.
“I’m burning! I’m burning!” he screamed.
His twin sister, Taniyah, was inside the house at the time of the shooting. She sensed something happened to her brother and rushed to his side, said their great aunt, Anitra Smith.
Taniyah held his hand pleading, “Twin don’t leave me, don’t leave me.”
Each time Tavon would roll his eyes shut, Taniyah would open them, Smith recalled.
Tavon lay wounded on the floor as his family looked on in horror.
What they didn’t know was that police were already on the way.
Chicago Police Sgt. Bryan Topczewski, who was leaving another homicide scene, heard the call — “child’s been shot” — and raced toward their house.
This was at least the fourth shooting that day, Topczewski said.
The sergeant arrived to find a chaotic scene. People were crying and screaming. Tavon’s family surrounded his small body.
“I approached and asked, ‘Where is he shot at?’ There were no blood stains soaking through the clothes. I looked at his face and could see blood coming out of his nose,” Topczewski said.
Topczewski knew from his training there could be internal bleeding. He asked Tavon’s mother to look for bullet wounds while he ran to his squad car for his medical trauma pack.
“I ripped the pack open, took out a compression bandage, and I found a wound in his back next to his spine,” Topczewski said. “So I just put direct pressure on it.”
The boy, who loved playing video games and basketball, was fighting for his life with a bullet lodged inside his body.
Medics rushed Tavon to the hospital that night, where he underwent several surgeries. Topczewski stopped by to see him and the sight of the boy with tubes going into his body badly disturbed the 20-year Chicago Police Department veteran.
“I’m a parent. You don’t like to see kids hurt no matter what happens,” Topczewski said. “They’re the true victims of what goes on here.”
Violence in Chicago is approaching levels that haven’t been seen in nearly two decades. The city has surpassed 500 homicides for the year, including 90 in the month of August. There have been more than 3,000 shooting victims in Chicago since the beginning of the year, according to the Chicago police.
As of August 12 of this year, 322 children ages 17 and under have been shot in Chicago, including 33 children ages 13 and under, according to Chicago Police. A total of 32 children ages 17 and under have been killed with a firearm in Chicago, including one child age 13 and under, Chicago Police records show. The investigation into Tavon’s shooting is ongoing, and no one is in custody.
“The blood of our children are crying out in the streets and something has to be done, something has to be done to stop this,” Smith said. “We have to do something all together, collectively, to put a stop to the violence here in Chicago.”
Smith said Tavon’s pancreas, spleen, intestines and kidneys were affected by the one bullet that entered his lower back. He is recovering in the hospital, and Smith said the family credits Topczewski with helping save his life.
“He did go beyond the call,” Smith said. “He’s our angel. He’s our guardian angel. He’s Tavon’s guardian angel and I appreciate him, and I appreciate the Chicago Police Department.”
When Smith first saw Topczewski after the shooting she threw her arms around him, kissed him on the cheek and thanked him for saving her great-nephew.
“He’s my hero,” she said.
After visiting with Tavon’s family, Topczewski stopped by the emergency room and the doctor gave him compression bandages to refill the medical trauma pack he used to save Tavon.
From his hospital bed, Tavon had a message for his guardian angel dressed in blue.