One of two men gunned down in a brazen killing on the steps of a West Side church during Sunday services a week ago was a witness to a fatal shooting last year, the Chicago Tribune has learned.
Emmanuel Fleming was himself wounded in the July 2016 shooting just a block and a half from Friendship Baptist Church in the Austin community. Another man, Artivis Gladney, 18, was killed. Police made an arrest that same night.
Then last Sunday morning, Fleming and a second man, Michael Swift, a 46-year-old grandfather, were fatally shot just outside the same church by two gunmen wearing bandanas across their faces.
A law enforcement source told the Tribune that Chicago police are investigating if Fleming was slain to silence a witness.
In a statement, Anthony Guglielmi chief spokesman for the Police Department, said detectives "are working very hard to establish a potential motive" but at this point cannot make a link between the two shootings. He confirmed, however, that Fleming's status as a witness in the 2016 shooting was among "a few theories" that detectives are investigating.
Guglielmi said Fleming never told police he feared for his life after the shooting last summer.
Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the Cook County state's attorney's office, declined to comment on the pending case.
As a survivor of the 2016 shooting, Fleming, 34, would be expected to be a witness for the prosecution if the case went to trial. No date had been set.
The suspect, who was fighting the charges, had bailed out of Cook County Jail last December after his mother posted $100,000 — the required 10 percent of his $1 million bail.
In February, the man, identified by police as a reputed gang member, was released from jail again — this time in LaPorte County, Ind., after he posted $10,000 bail. He had been taken into custody for violating his probation for a drug conviction there after he was charged with murder and attempted murder in the Chicago case, records show.
In the shooting on Aug. 13, the two gunmen ran toward the broad wooden doors of the church about 11:15 a.m. as services were underway and Fleming was about to enter with his children and Swift, police and witnesses have said.
Fleming cried out for his children to take cover inside the church as the two gunmen opened fire and he and Swift tried to take cover behind a nearby retaining wall, witnesses said. The children managed to make it inside safely.
The two gunmen fled in a silver or gray SUV headed south, officials have said.
The shooting that injured Fleming and killed Gladney last year stemmed from a dispute over a parking spot between a female neighbor and Fleming's sister-in-law, authorities have said.
The next night, Gladney was hosting a family barbecue when the neighbor and several others pulled up in vehicles. The group left after Fleming tried to smooth things over, but a few minutes later, the gunman and a second man came out from the neighbor's building and opened fire, according to prosecutors.
Gladney was pronounced dead at the scene, while Fleming was taken to Stroger Hospital for treatment for shots to his chest and right leg.
Police arrested a man matching the description of the gunman — wearing a red sweatshirt and white pants — about 10 minutes later and recovered a loaded gun with a defaced serial number, prosecutors said. Shell casings found on the scene matched the gun, prosecutors said, and the suspect was picked out as one of the gunmen, prosecutors said.
Fleming's family declined to comment about his death, but Swift's brother, Kevin, said his brother had bumped into Fleming sometime ago and agreed to attend the church service.
Disabled from diabetes that claimed a part of his foot, Swift walked with a cane, his brother said.
"He couldn't run or nothing," Kevin Swift said of the father of three grown children and grandfather of five. "How coldhearted could you be?"
Swift's sister, Sherilyn, said he was a church-going man who enjoyed playing a slot machine game on his cellphone and loved basketball and baseball. He was planning to visit his niece's newborn baby the next day, she said.
"You tell me you fixin' to go to church, it shouldn't be a question if you make it in," Kevin Swift said. "All this senseless killing in Chicago. ... Do these young people really appreciate the value of life? Do they really know what they doing out there?"
The Rev. Reginald Bachus, pastor of the Friendship Baptist Church, said in an interview last week that he was aware that Fleming had been shot last year. He said Fleming had been left unable to work because of the shooting, prompting several in the congregation to chip in with Christmas gifts for his family. He described Gladney as Fleming's godson.
Bachus lamented the Aug. 13 shooting just outside the church entrance, saying, "We've got to teach people there's got to be respect for God's house."
The pastor was thankful that the shooting didn't take place about 20 minutes earlier when worshippers were arriving for services.
"I think our society, particularly in our community, we're almost numb to it," Bachus said of the violence.
Chicago Tribune's Annie Sweeney and Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas contributed.