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Beaten teen had 'different attitude' than other boys, activist says

  • Story Highlights
  • Derrion Albert complained that he felt threatened by others in neighborhood
  • Someone videotaped brutal attack that killed him Thursday
  • The 16-year-old was more polite than other kids, activist said
  • Four have been charged with murder; suspects' ages are 16, 17, 18 and 19
By Ashley Fantz
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(CNN) -- Derrion Albert was different from the other boys in the often violent and tense neighborhood of Roseland in South Side Chicago.

From left, Eugene Riley, Silvanus Shannon and Eugene Bailey were charged with murder.

Derrion Albert, 16, was beaten to death last week. His death was captured on video.

"He had a different attitude. And I'm not saying he was perfect, but when you ask him to turn his hat to the back or take it off, he wouldn't put it on the back or hang it off his head or say to you, like the other boys do, 'F**k that!' He would just do what you asked," Ameena Matthews said.

Matthews works with Cease Fire, a Chicago, Illinois, grassroots organization founded in 1995 to try to curb gang violence. She grew up in the neighborhood that has drawn national attention since a video captured Albert, a 16-year-old honor student, being beaten to death with a railway tie, kicked and punched by other teens.

Four have been charged. Their ages are 16, 17, 18 and 19. Two went to Christian Fenger Academy High with Albert.

It's unclear who videotaped the savagery.

Matthews is a mediator, which means kids come to her and tell her that a dispute is about to boil over into violence; she picks up the phone and calls the two sides and talks it out.

Last school year, Albert complained to her that some boys were threatening him and that his leather jacket and shoes had been stolen from his locker.

"That boy tried. He complained to his teacher; he complained to me," she said.

But Albert, like many kids, hung out with some of the same boys who were known to menace other children in the neighborhood.

That's the way it is, she said. You hang out with who lives in your neighborhood.

"Kids are not going to say, 'Oh, this kid is a gangbanger. I better stay away.' All of them want to be friends with the kid who lives next door or in their project.

"People outside who don't understand this neighborhood want it to be simple, and it's not simple. No kid is really bad or really good. It's complicated over here. You need to find you some security and come here and see what it's really been like for years.

"Because it's war in this neighborhood," she said. "Nobody really safe. Boys got lot of guns." Video Watch graphic video of the attack »

"I think [gangs] tried to recruit him, and he said no, and he just tried to go home, and they just jumped on him,'' the Rev. Victor Grandberry, who met with Albert's family after Thursday night's killing and is acting as their spokesman, told WGN-TV.

The Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday that teenagers are scared to go to school or to be in school. Parents are yanking their kids out of Fenger.

Albert's grandfather, Joseph Walker, told CNN affiliate WLS-TV that his grandson was a good kid.

"He was in Bible class this Tuesday night. Church on Sunday," Walker told WLS. "I have no trouble out of my grandson whatsoever. This thing that happened to him is so horrific that we just don't know what we're going to do. We lost a really dear friend in my grandson. He was a blessed child."

The teenager had been living with his sister's grandmother for the past two years but recently moved in with a cousin, according to the grandmother, Eunice Cross.

Cross and Matthews both said his mother lives in Mount Vernon, in southern Illinois. His mother is expected to arrive in Chicago on Tuesday. Cross told WGN that Albert has another sister and a brother.


Cross said Albert had lived with her on and off since his grandmother died. He took out the trash when she asked and helped her with household chores.

"He never gave me trouble. He wasn't disrespectful at all," the grandmother told WGN. "He was a smart boy, he went to school, and he got good grades."

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