Julius Solis was 6 years old the first time he saw someone murdered.
Julius, his older brother, Javier Solis Jr., and their mother, Nora Perez, were living in an apartment in the Paulina building on 139th Street in East Chicago's Harbor section, once a quiet, safe neighborhood.
It was just past midnight Oct. 1, 1995, when gunshots rang out near their apartment building. Julius and his brother ran to a window and peered outside.
The way Julius remembers it, 15-year-old D’Angelo Feliciano ran to East Chicago police officers and begged them to call an ambulance because he’d been shot. Instead, Julius says, officers slapped and choked Feliciano in an attempt to get him to admit his Imperial Gangster affiliation.
“You can tell he’s like blacking out,” Julius recalls. “They still ask him, ‘Are you an IG? Are you an IG?’ ... Already at that age, I’m like, they ain’t supposed to be doing that.”
Feliciano’s family remembers it differently. They say police didn’t respond until nearly 20 minutes after the shooting. The family says Feliciano lay dying in the alley, audibly moaning, while nearby residents called 911 begging for help.
Feliciano was listed as dead on arrival.
No one ever was charged in his death, and the police records were destroyed in a move to a different building.
But the memories of Feliciano’s death are fresh in Julius’ mind nearly two decades later. They colored his view of justice, his understanding of right and wrong.
He grew up during a different kind of war.
The soldiers in Julius’ neighborhood wore gang colors and flashed gang signs. They fought and died for money, territory and street justice.
It’s a war that continues today, affecting thousands of youth throughout Northwest Indiana and Chicago’s south suburbs.
Julius and Javier grew up in the shadow of a well-known leader of the Imperial Gangsters, in the world of a teen mother who couldn’t separate herself from gang life and whose choices brought violence and death into her sons’ lives at a young age.
Javier was murdered in 2008 as a result of gang-related violence. His body lies in an unmarked grave because the boys’ mother couldn’t afford a headstone.
Julius is serving a 30-year prison sentence for voluntary manslaughter and an 11-year sentence for federal conspiracy to participate in racketeering.
Julius has survived, while more than a dozen of his friends — and Javier, his oldest brother — suffered violent deaths.
This is their story. It’s also a story of the love between two brothers. It’s a story about choices.
“(Julius) is what his life was, that’s all he is,” his aunt Francis Trevino said.
“The life he lived made him the person that he is today. People read the story, and all they see is this gangbanger who got 30 years. But he’s more than that. Julius is more than that. He’s a real person with real hurts, with nowhere to go. He had nowhere to go.”