Chicago's murder victims, captured in an instant

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Chicago (AFP)

A bullet hole in a restaurant window. Dozens of wooden crosses bearing names of the dead.

These are the images of Chicago's murders -- tragedies playing out in the third largest American city in numbers unmatched by any other major US metropolis.

Canadian photographer Jim Young spent six months chronicling the human toll of the runaway bloodshed plaguing the Midwest's capital and his adopted hometown, captured through images of memorials and murder scenes.

His final subject was Johnson Liggins Jr, a high school senior with dreams of college who was gunned down in the middle of the afternoon in late October, while walking to an after school job.

"He said he was going to be a Renaissance man. He was going to be a legend," recalled his mother, Aida Anderson.

Liggins' father Larry remembered watching as Young took photos of the 17-year-old lying in repose at the funeral home. Anderson kept three of the images for their sentimental value.

"That moment, it won't come back again," Larry Anderson said.

Young chose to use instant film, as first popularized by Polaroid in the 1970s, to "create a memory" of the victims through a physical photograph, one that would not be forgotten in a digital archive. He gave many photos away to victims' families and others.

"There's a certain complacency about violence in Chicago," said the photographer, a regular AFP contributor. "I wanted people to know that behind these numbers there were real people... a lot of them were just little kids."

He wrote the names of the victims directly on the photographs' signature thick white borders.

"I wanted people to look at it, and make that connection... associate it with a person who died," he said.

- Statistics mask human tragedy -

Chicago is struggling to keep its residents safe, as the American city with by far the nation's highest number of murders.

More than 3,300 people have been shot this year and more than 620 murdered, according to figures maintained by the Chicago Tribune newspaper.

That is nearly twice as many people killed as in the two biggest US cities, Los Angeles and New York -- combined.

But the scale of the statistics often masks the human tragedy.

"All of these people who were in those photos, we'll never know (if) we could have had another mayor, another president," said Larry Andersen.

"We didn't give them the opportunity to live their lives," added the bereaved father.

For some, their tragic deaths inspired street-side memorials, such as the stuffed animals and balloons affixed to the metal gate near the home of three-year-old Jazebel Aleman. Her father is alleged to have beaten the toddler to death in June.

But in many cases, Young found an almost surreal lack of evidence of the tragedies that had befallen the victims, with the scenes of their murders returning to normalcy within hours.

And so, Young photographed a dirty paramedic's glove at the site of 26-year-old Antwon High's shooting death, and bullet holes near the scene where 50-year-old Sedrick Ringer was killed.

In all, he chronicled more than 100 victims, as if to help write the end of their life stories.

To show, he said, "that they were being remembered by people who loved them, cared about them, and wanted to have a lasting memory of them."