Mom fears Chicago police have forgotten about the slaying of her 3-year-old son Mateo Zastro

Three-year-old Mateo Zastro’s stuffed animals still sit on the couch, his “PAW Patrol” chair remains in front of the TV.

His daycare backpack hangs by the door, an extra set of clothes inside. Veronica Zastro says they still have her son’s smell. She keeps his tiny urn, adorned with a cartoon dinosaur, close to her in her room.

It’s been a year and a half since Mateo was gunned down just blocks from their home, and it seems to Zastro that police have forgotten about him.

No arrests have been made, and Zastro says there have been no major updates from detectives.

“I’m frustrated, very frustrated,” Zastro told the Sun-Times. “My baby is 3. Not a gang member. Three years old.”

Zastro is not alone in her frustration.

At least 120 children under age 16 have been shot to death in Chicago since 2018, according to data kept by the Sun-Times. In more than half the cases — 85 — no arrests have been made.

In 2022, the year Mateo was killed, 29 other children were fatally shot — the highest number in Chicago in the last five years.

One of that year’s youngest victims was 5-month-old Cecilia Thomas, shot and killed in a drive-by. Her case remains unsolved too.

A fatal trip home

Veronica Zastro was driving her four children to their home in West Lawn on the night of Sept. 30 when a red car — possibly a Dodge Charger or Ford Mustang — cut them off on Cicero Avenue.

Trying to avoid any confrontation, Zastro said she turned onto Marquette Road. But a few blocks later, she met the same car near Kenneth Avenue.

Someone in the back seat of the car began shooting. ShotSpotter captured at least 10 rounds, according to a police report. Mateo, sitting in the back seat, was struck in the head.

His siblings “saw when the bullet struck,” Zastro said.

Mateo died about eight hours later at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, a few months shy of his 4th birthday.

Zastro said she still can’t understand what prompted the shooting.

“What made them think to do that, knowing that they can see kids and girls in the front seat?” Zastro said. “What possessed them to want to come up and down the block looking?”

In the days that followed, Zastro said she and her family canvassed the block, asking neighbors for any video that might show the shooting. No one turned any footage over to her.

She began hosting marches every month on the anniversary of the attack, hoping to pressure the shooter to step forward. But she has since ceased because no one was coming out to support her family.

“I get angry because, one, it’s only us,” Zastro said. “And then once we get [Zastro’s grandmother] out there, she doesn’t want to come back in and some days she’s losing her voice and shaking.”

‘My baby’s face every day’

Outside the home, where Zastro and her children live with her grandmother, hangs a banner with Mateo’s face.

This fall, local artist Milton Coronado painted a mural on the side of the neighborhood grocery store in honor of Mateo. The alderperson helped to get an honorary street sign on the family’s block.

Zastro hopes they serve as a powerful reminder to those responsible for the slaying.

“They’re seeing it everywhere they’re going,” Zastro said. “Even if they go to the grocery store, you have to park right there in the parking lot, you have to look at my baby’s face every day.”

Last fall, Zastro said detectives told her that they were still working to build a strong case. This winter they had the same message.

“I don’t like hearing, ‘We’re trying to build a strong case’ and ‘It’s not like “Chicago PD” or like the shows.’ That’s what they tell me,” Zastro said. “It’s not, but when it comes to one of yours, it actually is like that.”

Zastro believes she knows the family of the person involved in the shooting.

“We just want for these people to turn your child in,” Zastro said. “You’ll (still) have him, you can visit him, you can talk to him on the phone. You will forever hear his voice. We don’t get that.”

Around the house, Zastro and her grandmother have placed digital frames with videos of Mateo so they can be reminded of what he sounded like.

Zastro says people used to make fun of her for filming her children so much, but now she’s so grateful she did.

$15,000 reward

She believes Mateo’s absence is felt most by his older brother, now 7.

At the time Mateo was killed, Mateo and the older brother had just started playing online games. While Mateo’s first love was dinosaurs, his brother had recently introduced him to superheroes.

After the shooting, the 7-year-old did not want to leave the house. He stayed home from school for a full year. Zastro said she stayed home to watch him and lost her job. 

“My son didn’t want to go back to school because he thought he’s gonna get shot, since it happened so close to their school,” Zastro said.

Though her son has returned to school this year, he and her other children head straight home after classes.

“They don’t like to go out,” Zastro said. “They changed our lives drastically, all of our plans — my job, my kids’ education, everything is messed up because of one stupid decision that this person made.”

Last month, Cook County Crime Stoppers offered a $15,000 cash reward for anyone with information leading to an arrest and indictment in this case.

“If we don’t get any answers or closure or justice in my baby’s case, I promised I will flip this neighborhood upside down,” Zastro said. “I will go back down the streets that should have caught [this] on their cameras.”

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