After Peter Cruz finished up the special breakfast his mom fixed him, he kissed both her cheeks, her forehead, her nose and her chin and headed off the few blocks to school.
He never made it.
Someone attacked him, slitting his cheek, shooting him in the heart and turning a pit bull loose on the boy.
“I know he could have been someone,” his mother, Myrta Cruz, says of her smart and mischievous baby boy who would have turned 16 the next day, April 21, 1990.
That April day, Myrta Cruz faced a choice. Let the pain of losing him kill her or do something about it.
So “Miss Cruz,” as she’s known, walks the streets in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood where she’s lived a lifetime and raised her kids alone, trying to stop the violence.
The tiny grandmother of 13 transformed herself into an in-your-face foe to the gang bangers, drug dealers and wannabe tough guys who wander into her path, a mother who’s not afraid to dispense unsolicited advice to moms who can’t or won’t properly mother their own kids and probably more than a little pain in the you-know-what for Chicago cops she admonishes when she thinks they aren’t doing all they can to protect the Peters of the world.
“I’m out here trying to make peace,” she says, sitting in her apartment filled with angels.
That message of peace and hope to any kid who will listen comes mixed with admonishments to get an education and to find God."I talk to them as a mom,” says Cruz.
Though it has been 17 years since Peter died, her pain is still as raw as if the bullet seared his heart yesterday, a hurt reopened every time she hears another kid is killed.
Cruz attends all the rallies against violence and funerals of kids killed to shore up the moms who now know the unending heartache she feels.
“The fear that I have is that nobody cares. I don’t understand that. … People aren’t getting the message,” she says.
Cruz says she sees her life’s mission now as planting a seed that kids don’t have to die, that even one person can make a difference.