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A young Chicago mother shot to death. How the system failed her.

Young Chicago mother bravely fought for weeks to stop her abuser before being shot and killed
Young Chicago mother bravely fought for weeks to stop her abuser before being shot and killed 11:02

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Maria Roque was just 34 years old when she was shot and killed on the steps outside her West Side Chicago home, in front of her 8-year-old daughter. 

Her daughter and her 14-year-old son both witnessed Roque take her last breath.

In the weeks before she was killed, Roque repeatedly took all steps domestic violence victims are told to take. She got a protection order against her former boyfriend, Kenneth Brown. She also repeatedly went to the Chicago Police Department for help. She filed one police report after another and never gave up.

But the system failed her. 

Those who loved Roque hope her legacy will be one of change to keep domestic violence victims alive.

Maria Roque Supplied to CBS 2

One of Roque's close friends, Adriana Valdez, tried to help.

"It wasn't once, it wasn't twice, it was multiple times Roque went screaming for help with actual evidence," Valdez said about Roque filing numerous police reports.

Roque had photos, threatening text messages, and video. She filed her first police report on Halloween 2023 - saying she was thrown to the ground and pinned down with a foot on her chest. 

Then, on Nov. 8, Roque filed another one because her car tire was slashed. On Nov. 11 and 12, Roque reported repeated harassing calls and texts. Then, on Nov. 13, she reported a rock thrown through her front window.

What did the police do? They closed one case and suspended all the rest - meaning the cases were kept open but were not being investigated.

Supplied to CBS 2

Maria Roque's twin brother, Andres Roque, saw her struggle to get any help from the police.

"Police don't do much. They just say it is what it is," said Andres Roque. "What do we have police for, then?"

Andres and Maria Roque Supplied to CBS 2

Andres Roque had his own run-in with Brown. They fought after he said he was defending his sister from Brown. Andres says his glasses were broken, and his phone was taken. A police report was filed, but no action was taken.

"I always told her don't let anybody hurt you. She started to open up more and tell me things," said Andres Roque. "She's like, 'I need to get out from here. I deserve better,' and I told her, you do."

Then, on Roque's birthday, Nov. 24, her car was set on fire. She had the video that showed a person by her vehicle, the fire starting, and then the person calmly walking away.

Maria Roque's car on fire Supplied to CBS 2

For Maria Roque, this was more than just a car—it was a memory she made with her brother years before. The twins bought twin cars.

Documents show police had the video, but they also ended up suspending this case.

Supplied to CBS 2

"She knew that this man was definitely capable of much more than damage to material things," said Valdez.

Roque filed three more police reports on Nov. 28, Nov. 30, and Dec. 8. These were for harassing calls and texts.

Two cases were suspended, and one just stayed open. In all the complaints, there was no mention of police questioning Brown—not once. There was no contact, and there were no arrests. That's important when looking at what failed. 

Roque had a protection order. Valdez, another domestic violence survivor, made sure to take Roque to get one.

Maria Roque, Adriana Valdez Supplied to CBS 2

"I know how scary it can be. Let's do it so you don't feel alone," said Valdez.

She helped Roque navigate the system. The Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County's office offers guidance on getting protection orders and has a help center. 

In Roque's case, the protective order should have given her a chance to have her abuser arrested after every violation. But there were problems. First, it wasn't served, then it wasn't enforced.

The Cook County Sheriff's Department had to serve Brown. That's what it's called. To successfully serve, the Sheriff's Department had to give Brown court papers in person. Only then could he be arrested for any protection order violations.  

The Sheriff's Office said it tried to serve him twice with no luck.

The process is complicated. The Cook County State's Attorney's Office provided information on how to navigate the system and phone numbers for places to get help.

We showed Benna Crawford, managing director at Legal Aid Chicago, all of Roque's police reports. The nonprofit represents hundreds of domestic violence survivors every year and has provided resources. 

"This is a crime that is taken less seriously," said Benna Crawford. "Maria's case, and so many cases like it, demonstrate all of the different points where there was opportunity to do that intervention—and that opportunity was missed."

Benna Crawford CBS 2

On Nov. 28, Brown was served the protection order and related court papers. Roque went back to the police that same day with a new harassing text and repeated calls. 

Police should have arrested him for violating the protection order. But they didn't.

Crawford said this sent a message to Roque: "That she was going to have to do everything on her own."

Police did the bare minimum required by law. They kept telling Roque that she could try to get an arrest warrant herself from the Cook County State's Attorney's Office.

"I'm not aware of any other type of case or crime that one could be the victim of where the burden could be shifted to the victim to go out and do the investigation, and put together the evidence, and go to the state's attorney and convince the state's attorney's office that they should press criminal charges," said Crawford. "That is typically a police function."

According to the state's attorney's office, only domestic violence victims can get their own warrants. It gives victims another avenue to get their abusers arrested. Roque was told six times she could do this herself.

"Just so heavy a burden to bear, and one that probably shouldn't have been hers," said Crawford.

Maria Roque Supplied to CBS 2

"The last thing she told me in a text message, he told her, 'Oh, I have a gun for you,'" said Andres Roque.

Maria Roque's family wants what happened to her known—her final minutes after fighting so long; what happened when the system failed her. 

On Dec. 13, Roque left early in the morning to take her daughter to daycare before going to work. She buckled her daughter in their vehicle and then walked back toward her home.       

Home surveillance video shows that from across the street, a man quickly ran up behind her. She screamed at him about her daughter in the car. The little girl could see everything.

But that didn't stop the man. Neighbors' cameras caught the gunfire and a man running away. Maria's son rushed outside and attempted to perform CPR on his mother. Maria was taken to an area hospital, where she died.

Supplied to CBS 2

Two weeks later, Brown turned himself in to the police. He's the father of the little girl who was in the car during the shooting. 

Brown has pleaded not guilty to murder charges.

"She said she saw her dad kill her mom and how my nephew did CPR," said Andres Roque. "She's having nightmares."

Something Roque's children should know is that she never gave up. On Dec. 12, one day before the shooting, instead of going to the police, Roque went straight to the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. She was able to get an arrest warrant for Brown that same day.

Roque was finally so close to stopping Brown. But this help came too late. She was shot and killed just hours later.

"There needs to be a meaningful response early on to interrupt that before we get to the point where we get to a homicide," said Crawford.

"That was the fear we had every single day," said Valdez. "That something happened to Maria, that it was this man."

Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline: 877-863-6338

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233

CBS2 visited Maria's home with Andres Roque a few months after she was killed. Everything is still as she left it. Still propped up on her bed, Maria's vision board and how she saw her future.

"She wanted this year to be a new chapter, and it was too soon she was gone," said Andres Roque. "Now I feel empty. She was part of my life that was supposed to be forever."

The lives of Maria Roque's children also changed forever. Her daughter moved in with a family member, and her son is out of state with his dad.

Maria Roque is one of about 28,000 people who got protection orders in the last year in Cook County alone. It's important to know that only Chicago residents can take police report numbers directly to the state's attorney to get a warrant. Prosecutors can only access records from that department.

Here is information for Chicago residents from the Cook County State's Attorney:

"Chicago Residents: If the offender was not arrested and you want the case reviewed for criminal charges:

Chicago residents can take their police report to the Domestic Violence Courthouse located at 555 W. Harrison St., Chicago, IL 60607 to have the case reviewed for criminal charges. The State's Attorney's office reviews cases during business days Monday-Friday 8:30-1:30 pm."

Chicago Police Department officials would not explain the failures in this case. They sent this statement:

"The Chicago Police Department extends our condolences to Maria Roque's family as they grieve her tragic loss. Domestic violence is a serious crime, and our members work with professionalism to support the victims and all those affected by the trauma of domestic violence. We are also working with our City of Chicago and Cook County partners to strengthen our coordination and the resources available to those experiencing domestic violence."

If you are in a domestic violence situation or know someone who is, The Network, an advocacy group for domestic violence victims, put together a toolkit on how to create a safety plan.

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