Abused and in and out of foster homes, Laquan McDonald's tragic life

Laquan McDonald, 17, died after being shot 16 times.

Story highlights

  • State of Illinois removed Laquan McDonald from his mother's care when he was 3
  • He bounced around to various foster homes and homes of relatives as a ward of the state throughout his life

(CNN)In death, Laquan McDonald has countless defenders, people who want justice for him. They know him as the teenager in a police dashboard camera video who is seen walking away from a police officer who, in the span of 15 seconds, shoots him 16 times.

In death, many see Laquan as another black person killed by a cop. While an attorney for Officer Jason Van Dyke argues that his client was justified, crowds of outraged protesters chant and march. They are demanding that the right thing be done for Laquan, 17.
But in life, very few people apparently protected him. Laquan was hurt over and over again by those who were closest to him, according to a timeline of his life that CNN obtained from Veronica Resa, a spokeswoman with the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services.
    When Laquan was 3, child welfare officials took him from his mother, Tina Hunter. DCFS found evidence to support allegations he had been neglected.
    Less than two weeks before Christmas in 2000, the state of Illinois was granted temporary custody of Laquan and welfare workers placed him in a foster home.
    Sometime in 2000, the state's child welfare department conducted an investigation into alleged abuse of Laquan happening in that foster home. The department did not provide CNN with information on the outcome of that probe, but he was removed from that foster placement.
    On February 19, 2001, Laquan was placed in a relative's home. The department did not say who that person was or how he or she was related to Laquan.
    The boy remained in that home for barely seven months before the state moved him again on September 17, 2001, to the home of his great-grandmother.
    On May 8, 2002, Laquan was returned to his mother. Though spokeswoman Resa did not provide a specific reason why the mother regained custody, Resa told CNN, "DCFS's number one goal is to always try to reunite a child with a parent if at all possible."
    But, giving the child back to his mother resulted in more pain for Laquan.
    In June 2003, when he was 5 years old, the state determined that his mother's boyfriend was abusing him. Laquan had cuts, welts and bruises.
    Once again, Laquan was placed in a foster home.
    On Wednesday, CNN sought a response from Tina Hunter regarding the information that the Department of Children & Family Services provided.
    Attorney Michael Robbins declined to comment and said that she would not be available for any interviews.

    A home with his grandmother

    In July 2003, Laquan was sent once more to his great-grandmother's house.
    After five years there, she became his legal guardian in January 2008.
    Maybe 10-year-old Laquan had a good life then. Maybe he was still young enough that he could have started to heal.
    He stayed with his great-grandmother for five more years.
    She died in the waning days of summer in 2013. Laquan was 15.
    In the middle of January of the following year, he was arrested on suspicion of possessing marijuana and detained at a juvenile justice center.
    Ten days later, Laquan was handed back to state care, and for nearly five months he languished in that center until May 2014, when he was released and moved back in with his uncle.
    Two months before Officer Van Dyke shot Laquan to death on Chicago's Southwest Side in October 2014, the teen, still a ward of the state, had started attending Sullivan House, an alternative school for students aged 16 to 21, said principal Thomas Gattuso. He described Laquan as outgoing, jovial, talkative and funny.
    The teenager was considering playing basketball and wanted to get his life on track, Gattuso said. Laquan showed up to school everyday and demonstrated commitment to his classwork.
    The principal said he wasn't sure whether Laquan ever talked about his home life or his family.

    'We have a tragic ending'

    Between Laquan's death and when the footage of his shooting was released this week, the city of Chicago agreed in April 2015 to pay $5 million to McDonald's mother.
    Over the summer, freelance journalist Brandon Smith filed a lawsuit pressing the Chicago Police Department to release the dashboard camera video. A judge found in Smith's favor and ordered that the video be released by November 25.
    Even Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy acknowledged this week that Laquan had a very difficult life.
    "We have a tragic ending to -- unfortunately -- a tragic life of a young man, who was betrayed on a number of different levels," said McCarthy.
    On Tuesday, attorneys representing Laquan's mother and his uncle released a statement.
    "We [the family of Laquan McDonald] deeply appreciate the outpouring of love and support for Laquan. This is a difficult time for us. As we have said in the past, while we would prefer that the video not be released we understand that a court has ordered otherwise.
    "We ask for calm in Chicago," the statement continues. "No one understands the anger more than us. But if you choose to speak out, we urge you to be peaceful. Don't resort to violence in Laquan's name. Let his legacy be better than that."