CHICAGO — The Santiago family linked arms and hands behind 25-year-old Michael Santiago Sunday afternoon as he faced a felony charge of child endangerment following the death of his 3-year-old son, Eian.
Through their anger and grief, they wanted Michael to come home and begged for a bond that they could afford. Prosecutors asked that it be one million dollars, but bond was set at $75,000; the judge maintained that whether it was seven-figures or lower, it is not bringing this child back.
“I heard a pop or something go through the door, and the 6-year-old went upstairs and said that his brother had been shot,” said Israel LaSalle, the brothers’ grandfather. LaSalle lives in a unit above the Santiago family in the 1000 block of North Francisco. He was watching his grandsons Saturday around 9 p.m.
The boys had gone downstairs to their own apartment; there, the six year-old climbed atop the refrigerator. He found his father’s loaded revolver wrapped in pajama pants. Prosecutors said that Santiago had shown the boy his gun three weeks prior, but he had told him it was not to be used. The boy fired the weapon at Eian, and he was shot in the head. LaSalle picked the boy up and ran out of the house, in the direction of Norwegian American Hospital.
“I couldn’t run no more,” LaSalle said. “So this gentleman came by and I said ‘why don’t you help me?’ He grabbed him and ran the rest of the way to the hospital.”
Eian was transferred to Mt. Sinai Hospital, where he died later Saturday.
In court Sunday, prosecutors claimed that Santiago had purchased the gun after he cooperated as a witness in a murder trial. Santiago claimed that he had “snitched” on a gang member and feared for his life.
LaSalle said he did not know that Santiago had a gun in the home, or he would never have let the boys near it. “Parents should never have guns in the house, especially when they have got boys,” he said.
Cook County Judge James Brown called Eian’s death “the ultimate tragedy.” He continued: “I’m sure that the defendant didn’t mean for this to happen, but that’s what happens when people have guns that shouldn’t have guns.”
Community activist Andrew Holmes is working to raise money to cover Eian’s funeral expenses. He said that Santiago’s purchase was not the right solution for his problem, and his family is now left with the most complicated of grief. “They are angry, number one, that the child is gone,” Holmes said. “They’re angry, number two, because of the high bond. But that’s the situation you take when you have a gun in the house.”
Santiago’s prior record includes two misdemeanors, theft and disorderly conduct. For the past two years, he has managed a Chicago restaurant, Papa Ray’s Pizza and Wings. The Department of Children and Family Services is working to secure the safety of the six year-old boy and another one year-old child. Santiago is due in court on Oct. 23.