‘She was beautiful’: A mother deep in grief over loss of her daughter, allegedly slain by a man she had reported for harassing her

In the small back bedroom of a West Side apartment, the ceiling light stays on.

Day and night, rain or shine, the light falls on an elaborate tribute to Rickisha King-Tiggs: her backpack, her graduation regalia, the expensive Fendi bag she once hid under her bed. It sits on the dresser, never used, protective wrapping still on its handles.

There is a tall stand-up cutout of Rickisha in long braids and a blue dress, the one she wore to Gibsons on her last birthday. Dried roses, more after each visit to the cemetery. A stack of small Bibles in the corner by the window. The bed is covered in neatly arranged clothes from all eras of Rickisha’s life: gym shorts from grammar school, her beret from high school, college sweatshirts. Next to the bed are two laundry bags stuffed full.

Rickisha was shot dead in October 2022, at age 25. Her mother Misty Tiggs washed the dirty clothes she left behind; she hasn’t yet found the strength to fold them.

Before Misty leaves the house, she gives the figure of Rickisha a goodbye kiss. And then she steps outside, lonely and grieving, furious and fragile and desolate, with a bone-deep belief that it all could have been avoided.

The man charged in Rickisha’s killing was their neighbor. Misty and Rickisha had reported him to law enforcement at least twice before for threatening incidents, one of which allegedly turned violent.

The system has limits, even against a known potential threat — a reality underscored in March when a pregnant woman in Edgewater was allegedly stabbed by a man who had harassed her for years, killing her 11-year-old son when he came to her aid.

But Misty lives with all the ifs: If police had taken her complaints more seriously in the weeks before the shooting, if they had come faster after she repeatedly called 911 the day of the shooting, or if Rickisha’s father was still alive to handle things his way, she thinks, everything might be different.

‘Like a diamond’

“She shined so bright,” Misty recalls. “Like a diamond.”

Like a diamond, too, Rickisha was strong and sharp, smart beyond her years even as a very young child. She was brainy and confident and fanatically determined. After playing an attorney in a school mock trial, the judge was so impressed he shook her hand and told her she should be a lawyer, said Misty, who recounts that story often and with pride.

Rickisha was Misty’s only child, and whatever she wanted, she got. Misty talked so much about gifts for “her baby” — Christmas presents, Easter baskets — that one new friend finally asked her “girl, how old is your baby?” Her baby was, at that point, long grown.

Misty scrolls through her iPhone photos and little fragments of Rickisha come alive again: In a Cubs jersey, eating chicken wings with a sly smile. Posing with Midnight, the black cat she somehow persuaded Misty to let her keep for a while. Graduations, formal dances, the time she came home with her hair in a bouncy ginger bob: “Ma, I look like a red Marilyn!” Pearls, purses, manicures. Military-school posture and a confident look in her eye. Every day was picture day with Misty and Rickisha.

Rickisha was born of a special love, as Misty called it, between her and her longtime partner Rickey Jayson King, who had fallen for each other in their teens.

Rickey was smart and magnetic, everyone said, with a charisma that made people want to know him. He also had a fierce protective streak, especially when it came to Misty and Rickisha; on his hand was tattooed “family first.”

His street hustle supported his loved ones and then some: One Christmas, Misty recalled, he bought presents for every single kid in her apartment building.

Rickey was a street guy, nobody denies that. On Monopoly night, he and Rickisha played with real $20s. But he always pushed Rickisha to go to school and study hard: “Be great,” Misty remembers him telling her. “Be great.”

Rickey and Rickisha were closer than close. Rickisha would confide in her father things she would never tell her mother; sometimes, if Misty had kicked him out of the house, Rickisha would stealthily let him back in.

And in turn, Rickey was incredibly protective of Rickisha. He and Misty put her in a CPS military school, Carver Military Academy, to help give her structure and discipline; at her graduation, Rickey cheered loudest. She got a scholarship to Illinois State University and moved downstate.

She was thriving there until Rickey was killed.

He was on the parkway near Adams and Hamlin one afternoon in November 2016 when someone opened fire from across the street and shot him in the head.

And Rickey — charismatic, beaming Rickey, Rickey who took his little brother’s calculator away to teach him to do math homework in his head — Rickey was gone.

Everything turned to chaos. Misty was inconsolable.

Rickisha was shattered. She couldn’t function at school, lost her scholarship, and moved back home in a profound depression. She barely ate. Misty, herself hurt and grieving, did her best to guide her through.

It took a year and a half for Rickisha’s fog to start lifting. On the other side, she found Jesus. She became so intensely devout that people in the neighborhood started calling her “the God child.”

“Every day she said, ‘Ma, you pray today?’” Misty recalled. “‘Did you pray last night? Did you say your prayers before you went to sleep? Say your prayers, Ma, God coming back for all his angels.’

“Who would have thought she was talking about herself?”

The neighbor

Rickisha healed enough to re-enroll in school, getting an associate degree from City Colleges. Her graduation photos show her beaming in a cap and gown. She found jobs and worked hard, but still lived with Misty; the two were too close to think about her moving away again.

Misty and Rickisha lived together in a brick courtyard building on Drexel Avenue in Chatham. The street was quiet enough, and the apartment was spacious and tidy. But one of their neighbors in the same building was causing problems, Misty said.

Rickisha had called police to complain about Eugene Arnold as far back as June 2021, records show.

According to a police report, Rickisha told officers Arnold had walked up to her as she entered the gate to the apartment complex; when she asked him to leave her alone he threatened to “blow (her) brains out” and jumped toward her “in an intimidating fashion,” a police report states.

It had been an ongoing problem, Rickisha told police – he had twice before followed her from the Green Line to the bus stop; one of those times, he walked so close behind her she could sense him in her personal space, she said, according to the report. She had also caught him looking from his apartment into her bedroom window, which was across from his, the report states. Misty had to go to Walmart for blackout curtains — she found some in pink, Rickisha’s favorite color.

Officers told Misty and Rickisha how to go ask a judge for an order of protection and get a warrant, the report states. They didn’t end up doing so, a choice Misty said she now regrets.

Most of the time, though, Misty just tried to ignore him. “He don’t exist to me,” she said. “That aggravates him.”

She wanted to avoid him one evening in early October of 2022, she said. She was on her way into the building when she saw him; as soon as he saw her, Misty said, he started yelling: “dumb bitch, ugly-ass bitch.”

She had enough. “What is wrong with you?” she remembers asking him. “Why the (expletive) you keep doing this?”

He advanced toward her, she says, and she picked up a nearby brick and hurled it but missed. He began hitting her with a bottle, striking and punching her while she tucked herself into a ball, she said.

He took off before police arrived, and while police went to his apartment they couldn’t contact him, records state. The officers told Misty how to get a warrant or summons, according to a police report.

She could have gone “to the hood,” she told the Tribune; she knew where he lived, she knew people who could have torn the building apart to find him. But she was “trying to live right, you know?” she said. “And I was doing it wrong. I did it wrong. Cause now my baby gone.”

She went to the domestic violence courthouse the next day, she said, and they gave her contact information for a detective.

Building a case would take time, Misty said the detective told her; he needed to get security video from the building manager, he needed to get other things sorted out. Misty took photos of Arnold’s van and license plate herself one night, she said. Misty called the detective’s desk repeatedly, at Rickisha’s urging, to try to check in, but often had a difficult time reaching him, she told the Tribune.

Meanwhile, Misty started using the back gate in an attempt to avoid Eugene Arnold. Rickisha would walk with her, the daughter protecting the mother.

Three weeks later, the detective hadn’t met her face to face, or taken her statement, Misty said. Misty and Rickisha were walking together near the building when they saw Arnold’s van.

Records from Chicago police and the Office of Emergency Management and Communications describe what happened next:

Misty called 911 at 4:19 p.m. She told the call-taker she had just seen the man who had attacked her a few weeks ago; she gave the calltaker the license plate and the Records Division number under which the battery was logged. Send police, she said.

Shortly afterward she called Area 2 detectives and asked for the detective who had been assigned to the battery. He was not working, she was told; she told the detective who picked up the phone what was happening, including the license plate, records state. If police did not show up in 10 minutes, he told her to call 911 again, according to the report. The detective then called OEMC himself and asked for officers to be sent to meet Misty, records show.

At 4:29 p.m. Misty called 911 again. Arnold was still circling the area, she said. Misty told the Tribune that the call-taker asked, “didn’t you just call?” and said she had to give police time to get there.

At 4:50, she called 911 again, and asked if the police were coming. And then, while she was on the phone, she told the call-taker that she saw Arnold’s van, coming toward her.

Even in the sterile language of a police report, the despair comes through.

“TIGGS then began to scream that ARNOLD had a gun and just shot at them … TIGGS then further screamed that he had shot her baby.”

All these months later, sitting on a couch in her lawyer’s office, Misty describes it unprompted, and it’s happening in front of her all over again.

“I begged Jehovah to save my baby. … I just didn’t want her to leave, I begged and begged and begged. I didn’t know — put my hand on the blood? Don’t put my hand on the blood? Screamed and ran, I didn’t know what to do — shut her eyes?”

In her voice there is a rising panic. She hunches over, her whole body shaking, and she claws at her bracelet.

“She tried, she tried, she tried to just breathe, she tried to breathe. She was just hurt.”

Officers arrived to find her lying on the sidewalk next to Rickisha, distraught. One officer, then another, tried to gently pry her away. She didn’t move. It took a group of police officers to help her to her feet. At the hospital she got the terrible news: Rickisha was dead.

“We dropped the ball,” Misty said a detective told her.

The grief

For a couple of weeks after the shooting Misty didn’t shower. She couldn’t bring herself to live in the building on Drexel, and she couldn’t bear to stay with friends who had children — “I don’t got my baby. What I want to be around other babies for?”

She stayed in Milwaukee with her cousin Titus for a few months, the cousin who had sped to her side and supported her after the shooting. She lived with her mother for awhile, but all she wanted to do was sleep and cry, and she could see the toll that took on her mother. Eventually she spent about six months and too much money in a hotel, she said. When she found the new place on the West Side she set up the bedroom for Rickisha. She slept in there once, right in the middle so as not to disturb the clothes and pillows she had put there in memoriam. She didn’t do it again.

But she doesn’t really sleep much anymore anyway, she said. She was prescribed pills to help with that, but sometimes also drinks — more than she used to. Her mind hasn’t been the same since the shooting. She easily loses her train of thought. She can’t always form words without stuttering.

She visits the grave, where her daughter was laid to rest in silver shoes and a dress so expensive Misty’s friends were shocked. But Rickisha was a princess, Misty says, and she was buried like a princess: “Pearls on her neck. Ring on her finger and her hair was beautiful. She was beautiful … she wasn’t going to have it no other way.”

Misty has visited Rickisha’s gravesite at all hours, bringing flowers and Rickisha’s favorite food. When it’s cold she sets up a fire pit and goes home smelling of smoke. In late March, on Rickisha’s birthday, she decorated the gravesite with flowers and posters and invited loved ones to meet her there for cake.

Once, she admits a little drunk, she laid down next to Rickisha’s grave and slept for 45 minutes. It was some the best rest she had in a long time.

Rickisha was laid to rest next to her father: as close in death as they were in life. If he had been around, everyone agrees, nothing ever would have happened to Rickisha. Anyone giving Misty or Rickisha trouble would have found themselves in Rickey’s way. If anything, Misty speculates, Rickey would be in jail now for what he would have done to her attacker.

So Misty visits the gravesites, often with food and flowers, and thinks and cries. Rickisha found comfort in God after Rickey’s death, a solace Misty can’t quite find — it all feels too unfair for a loving God to have allowed. People tell her to channel her grief into something productive, maybe work with other mourning mothers, but helping others feels impossible when she can’t help herself.

About a year after the shooting came a particularly jarring phone call, Misty said. It was from from the detective who had been assigned to investigate her beating. Did she, he asked, still want to make a statement?

The aftermath

Eugene Arnold was arrested in the hours after Rickisha’s shooting and charged with murder and attempted murder.

His case has been messy in the usual Cook County ways. Its first judge was reassigned after allegations of misconduct unrelated to the case. After more than a year and a half, prosecutors and defense still have not exchanged all the potential evidence. There is no realistic prospect of trial anytime soon.

Arnold is represented by a public defender but has flooded the court file with handwritten paperwork as if he is his own attorney. A county psychiatrist found him fit to stand trial, saying that he is not exhibiting signs of mental illness and “any statements to the contrary should be deemed volitional” — that is, he is trying to seem as if he is mentally ill. His public defender wants a second opinion — defense attorneys widely regard the county doctors as rubber stamps — but the process is slow. The Cook County public defender’s office declined to comment for this story.

Misty has gotten a lawyer to represent her as a victim in the criminal case. She knew Steve Greenberg since he had done some legal work for Rickey, and she called him to ask for help just a few days after the shooting.

“For 35 years I’ve been hearing sad stories, and this is right up there at the top,” Greenberg told the Tribune. “There were so many chances to avoid this, and they just failed her at every turn.”

Chicago police declined to comment for this story, citing the pending litigation.

Misty got another set of attorneys to file a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Drexel building’s management; the building attorneys deny any wrongdoing, noting that the shooting itself didn’t happen in the building. Misty’s attorneys have declared an intention to sue the city as well.

But Misty focuses on criminal court.

Very little happens in the typical pretrial hearing, even in a murder case. Victims’ families rarely attend each court date. It is a significant stressor with very little payoff: A long trip to the courthouse, a long security line, a long wait until the courtroom doors are unlocked, and a long wait for the case to be called, only for it to be over in a couple of jargon-filled minutes.

Misty has attended nearly every hearing, even though it rips her up every time.

Sometimes she wears a “force field,” a piece of clothing with her daughter’s name or photo on it. One sweatshirt reads “JUSTICE FOR RICKISHA.” Next to her on the bench she drapes a white necktie — a stand-in for Rickey.

At a hearing this month she waited hours, tense and trembling, through a litany of other peoples’ cases. When the case was called, Arnold walked into the room and looked out into the gallery. Misty turned her face toward the wall.

As the attorneys updated the judge on the status of the case — still seeking discovery, still hoping to get Arnold a second mental health examination — Arnold kept interjecting. Misty hunched over and plugged her ears with her fingers.

He objected to being called the public defender’s client, he said he was “perplexed” that he was still there. And then he started to scream — he had been shot by “these people,” indicating the gallery where Misty was sitting, yelling that “they tried to assassinate a United States presidential candidate.”

Misty got up and sped out of the courtroom, crying. “Yeah, leave!” Arnold screamed, and accused her of having shot him — which she said confused and upset her.

Misty’s cries were audible from the hallway as Arnold was escorted back, still yelling, into the lockup.

Misty walked out of the courthouse with tears on her face. On the plaza she pulled out a small creased cigarette and asked for a light from an off-duty sheriff’s deputy, who offered her the ashen end of his cigar. She made her way down the steps and walked north into the spring sunshine, still shaken.