The detectives who remember the children

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The other day at lunch, two Chicago police detectives, Bill Sullivan and Michele Moore-Grose, were talking with me about the murder cases they've been working and the young people shot dead.

They brought up a movie to explain what they see in Chicago.

Not some cop buddy movie. And not one of those police procedurals, where forensic specialists play the action heroes and the lab results come in before the final commercial.

It was a story about children hunting children.

"Did you ever see 'The Hunger Games'? We always equate … those kids in that neighborhood, that's what they're living every day. They're in 'The Hunger Games,'" said Sullivan.

"They're either the predator or they're the prey the next day," he said. "Everywhere they walk, they've got to be on all the time. They can never be looking down because you never know. … Your adrenaline is going all the time. It's a horrific way to grow up."

You might also say that studying the crime scenes with kids on the ground is a horrific way to make a living. But the detectives keep working cases. They have 37 in their caseload.

"Everybody has a mom," said Moore-Grose, a mother herself.

Right away, I liked both of them. You'd think they were college teachers, not swaggering TV cliches. But then, I don't think I've ever met a Chicago homicide detective who resembles a cop on TV.

Most are thoughtful people, quiet, introspective and injured somehow themselves, down deep where it doesn't show. It must come after years of seeing terrible things.

One of the cases that Sullivan and Moore-Grose worked was right out of Chicago's Hunger Games: a heater case that drew national attention, the murder of Derrion Albert, 16, beaten to death near Fenger High School in 2009.

What bothered them was that Albert was beaten when he got caught between two groups fighting for dominance. A video of the beating made the national news, and the Obama White House sent Cabinet officials to Chicago who insisted they'd "draw a line in the sand."

You know what happened. The line kept moving. There were 506 homicides last year, and more attention came from the Obama White House when 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was killed in late January.

She was front-page news, too. And even the memory of Hadiya, considered the epitome of the innocent victim, has begun to fade. It happens with homicide. And what's left are the parents and the detectives.

Sullivan and Moore-Grose have been partners for 12 years now. What I didn't consider before meeting them was the serendipity of murder, where victims are connected either by shooter or neighborhood, by circumstance or clique.

Some of their cases involve victims you've read about here: 12-year-old Nazia Banks, a little boy called "Peanut" who died last May when a bullet pierced his brain as he ran home for safety.

And a rough guy with a record, Norman "Mone" Stokes, 38, shot dead in a January dice game with eight people he knew, and none would tell the detectives who did it, not even a friend and purported eyewitness.

"He goes, 'Well, I'm just not gonna snitch,'" Moore-Grose recalled. "I said: 'What about if it was your mother?' He said, 'Even if it was my mother, I wouldn't snitch.' I said, 'Don't tell your mother that.'"

On Wednesday we spoke to Stokes' mother, Theresa Stokes Johnson, now living in Memphis.

I covered the funeral of Stokes, one of the imperfect homicide victims of Chicago whose deaths are often pushed aside. It was snowing when they cranked his coffin into the ground.

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