It’s been 25 years since 20-year-old William “Bill” Graber left his apartment on a hot August night to smoke a cigarette and never returned home.
Graber died after he was shot once in the chest Aug. 2, 1995, while hanging out with friends on a corner in the 800 block of West 149th Street in East Chicago — about a block away from the apartment he shared with his mother.
Graber’s family didn’t know anyone who’d been murdered before he was killed, said his mother, Mary Katherine Laird.
His homicide ripped a hole in the fabric of their family.
“We lost a son,” Laird said. “We lost our home.”
Graber’s sister, Jodi Lyn Anderson, 44, was away at college in Iowa when her brother was killed, and she never returned to live in Indiana.
Laird couldn’t bear to remain in their apartment, so she moved to Hammond.
“You could see the blood on the street for a while,” she said. “Just turn the corner, if you’re walking to anywhere.”
The good people of East Chicago rallied around their family, but Laird said she never felt the same about the city. She left the Region in 2000 to be close to her daughter in Iowa, she said.
As another anniversary of her son’s death approached this year, Laird said her grief can be overwhelming.
“I have the kids’ pictures in the living room,” she said. “I have my daughter, pictures of her with her kids. But Billy — I have has senior picture. That’s as far as it goes. It’s sad to think he didn’t get to be a grown-up.
“I have little memories of him, but it’s like, ‘What could have been?’ It’s all the what-ifs,” Laird said.
Anderson, who named her oldest son William in honor of her brother, lost a connection to her childhood, Laird said.
“When I get on her nerves, she has no one to say, ‘You take mom for a while,’” she said.
East Chicago police said in 1995 they had at least one suspect, but no charges have ever been filed in the case.
Laird hopes that perhaps, after all these years, someone who was afraid to come forward then might be willing to talk to police now, she said.
“After 25 years, maybe it’s time to not be afraid anymore,” she said.
Police said at the time that several people in a brown car drove up, and a passenger shouted something about a gang before firing three shots. Graber “got in the way of the gun,” his mother said.
Graber wasn’t in a gang, but he associated with gang members, police said at the time.
Laird said her son loved to talk and hang out with friends.
“This is East Chicago in the 1990s,” she said. “The kids you went to school with — some were gang members and some were upstanding citizens.”
Graber loved comic books and goofing off, she said.
He had been watching a Muppets movie the night he was killed.
“He did all the normal things. He went to prom. He didn’t do sports,” his mother said. “He was mostly around for the fun, and the comic books.
“When he died, he had milk crates filled with comic books. His room was a mess, but his comic books were carefully organized in a very serious order in plastic bags.”
Some of Graber’s friends have kept in touch with the family over the years, and Laird appreciates them, she said.
Still, there are some days when Laird feels angry because there’s still no justice for her son.
She doesn’t want someone to get the death penalty, she said. She just wants justice after all this time.
“There are still so many good people in East Chicago,” she said. “The gang violence has got to stop.”