It’s been more than five months since Maria Soila Vega’s son was killed on camera, but his killer is still free.
Christopher Torrijos was shot to death on Sept. 16, 2021 while he was out celebrating Mexican Independence Day. Bystanders captured the altercation leading up to the shooting on their cell phone cameras, and the firing of the fatal shot. The videos are still online. Soila Vega has watched them all.
WBEZ first reported on the case in January. But despite the video evidence and the public attention, police still haven’t made an arrest.
The failure to capture her son’s killer has shaken Soila Vega’s faith in the justice system. And after months of waiting for justice, Soila Vega’s hope has curdled into suspicions of discrimination. Soila Vega said she’s afraid police aren’t prioritizing her son’s case because he was Latino.
But the fact is, in Chicago, murderers are about twice as likely to get away with their crime than they are to be arrested. City data show that in the five year span of 2017 to 2021, there were 3,342 murders in the city and police have made an arrest in 1,101 of them.
Chicago police report they have been solving more murders in 2021 and 2022 and in a statement, a police spokesperson said the department and its detectives “are committed to seeking justice for all victims and their families.” The spokesperson said “CPD detectives work around the clock to identify and apprehend those responsible for the senseless homicides that have occurred in Chicago.”
“We will continue to pursue the individual responsible for this murder… to bring a measure of closure” to Torrijos’ loved ones, the statement reads.
“Something’s missing and it’s him”
Soila Vega remembers her son as a kindhearted mama’s boy. She said the two of them were very close, with Torrijos always checking up on her and worrying about her. He would text or call her every day, Soila Vega said.
In 2020, Soila Vega was hospitalized with COVID-19. She was still potentially contagious when she got home from the hospital, and there were instructions for her to be isolated from everyone else. But she said Torrijos insisted on being with her and holding her hand.
“I told him ‘no, no, you’re going to be sick’ and he said ‘I don’t care, you’re my mom. I want to be with you,’” Soila Vega remembers.
This past Christmas, her first without her son, Soila Vega didn’t want to celebrate the holiday at all, it was too painful. She said everything reminded her of Christopher.
“When my husband told me, ‘we’re gonna celebrate Christmas,’ and and I told him ‘no, I don’t even want to put my tree up,’” Soila Vega said. “‘If you want to put some decoration [up] you can go ahead but no, not me this year because he’s not going to be there. He’s not going to be there for me.’”
“Something’s missing and it’s him.”
Three years earlier, Torrijos had delighted his family, especially his younger cousins, by dressing as Santa Claus for the family Christmas party at his parents’ house.
Soila Vega said as soon as her son put the suit on he started dancing and playing with the younger kids. When it came time for gifts he was fully committed to playacting as Santa as he passed out presents.
Soila Vega said she and her son were texting around lunchtime the day he was murdered. She teased her chubby son about coming over to eat her home-cooked food.
“I told him ‘I want to see you, I want to squeeze your stomach,’” Soila Vega said.
That was a Thursday. Their work schedules were busy that week but they agreed they would see each other on Sunday for a meal.
“But that never happened,” Soila Vega said. “I’m still waiting for him.”
“This is not right”
That night Torrijos was celebrating with friends when a fight broke out in a Jewel parking lot in the South Loop. Torrijos tried to stop the fight and ended up being attacked by two men.
One of them shouted out a gang slogan and someone referred to Torrijos as a “neutron,” slang for someone who is neutral, with no gang affiliation. On the video, bystanders can be heard shouting “he’s got a gun” about one of the people attacking Torrijos, and then a single shot is fired.
Torrijos was killed by a single shot to the face. The men who attacked him can be seen clearly on the video.
Chicago police declined to provide any specifics to WBEZ, but Soila Vega said detectives have told her they’ve identified the man who fired the shot and want to charge him with murder, but they believe he has fled the state and has, so far, escaped their grasp.
At a meeting with grieving parents late last year, a CPD detective told Soila Vega there were concerns the suspect might “flee the country,” but assured her the department had been in touch with immigration and he would be flagged if he tried to cross the border. She also said the department’s fugitive apprehension unit was looking for her son’s killer.
Soila Vega said that’s not nearly good enough.
“I don’t know what I got to do, but I have to do something because this is not right,” Soila Vega said about the failure to make an arrest. She said she was outraged that police had done “nothing” to capture her son’s killer, even though the whole thing was captured on video.
“Much more work to do”
At a press conference last week, Chicago police Superintendent David Brown touted the department’s recent success bringing killers to justice.
Brown said that through Feb. 24, detectives had “cleared” 50 homicides in 2022, outpacing the number of murders solved in that same time frame in 2021.
Last year the department cleared 400 murders, a 19 year high according to Brown. He said the improvement was bringing Chicago’s historically dismal murder clearance rate “closer to the national average,” but acknowledged, “obviously we have much, much more work to do.”
Torrijos’ case is different than most of Chicago’s open murders, because detectives aren’t still struggling to identify the person who pulled the trigger. Even today you can see Facebook comments explicitly naming the person who allegedly fired the shot that killed Soila Vega’s son.
Soila Vega said she feels “sad” and “angry” that police have still failed to capture him. She doesn’t believe detectives are actively searching for her son’s killer. She said it feels like police just don’t care enough, and she worries it’s because her son was Mexican.
“I don’t want to, like be the kind of person that is [claiming] discrimination. But now I’m feeling that,” Soila Vega said.