Memorial for slain man in spirit of ‘doing something more’ for grieving south suburban mom

Dean Barnett first met the mother of Shawn Griffin when she was trying to dig a hole in the ground near a white cross she had erected in memory of her son.

It was just before Mother’s Day, and she was trying to put in a solar-powered light to illuminate the cross at night. At that location, the afternoon of Aug. 12, 2023, her son, 31-year-old Shawn Griffin, was shot to death.

Barnett owns Barnett Outdoor Living, a nearby landscaping company, and with the help of contributions of other landscapers and even Barnett’s barber, he and his son built a permanent memorial for Shawn. It was to be dedicated Sunday, with local clergy attending, Barnett said.

“I believe in God and it was in my spirit to do something more for her,” Barnett said.

“We are always doing things in the community,” he said. “This was a way of helping somebody who is grieving.”

Barnett, who has a 24-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter, is president of the Hazel Crest Elementary District 152½ Board.

The memorial, along the parkway at the southwest corner of 167th Street and Richmond Avenue, includes plants, mulch, stone and 3-inch thick quarry rock. A cross with Shawn Griffin’s name was to be added and Barnett said he and his son were finishing working on posts the cross would be secured to.

His business is at 16730 Richmond Ave., and although it has a Hazel Crest address it receives services from Markham, he said. His company is just directly south of 167th, the boundary between Hazel Crest and Markham, and said the shooting was being investigated by Markham police.

He said he has talked with police and learned there is an arrest warrant for a person believed to have been involved.

Markham police Chief Jack Genius said Friday he could not comment on the matter other than to say it is an active, open investigation, but “we do not have a resolution yet.”

Barnett said Shawn Griffin lived nearby in Markham with his mother, a single mom who raised four children, and was driving from the Walmart in neighboring Country Club Hills when the shooting occurred.

Barnett said he was leaving his business and headed to a job when he saw “this woman crouched down in a rut and pounding something, like a pipe, into the ground.”

He spoke with her and felt compelled to do something to help, pointing out a heavy truck traffic passing through the intersection would obliterate the cross she put up.

The new memorial has a buffer of rock and mulch, and the cross itself will be set back from the road to avoid damage, Barnett said. The owner of the property gave him permission to use some of his land and also contributed.

The wooden white cross that will be erected has a photo of Griffin and the words “son, brother & cousin” across the top and “forever loyal son” along the bottom.

Barnett said because it is landscaping and does not involve a permanent structure such as deck or shed, he didn’t need a permit from Markham, but showed officials the final elements, including the cross and posts.

He said his barber chipped in $300 for flowers, which would be planted at the dedication ceremony.

Barnett said he put aside other landscaping jobs for clients to focus on the memorial, and that they worked for nearly a week straight to finish the job.

He said many people have stopped by the memorial, and many residents are aware of the shooting, which took place a week before Shawn Griffin’s 32nd birthday.

“People know what happened,” Barnett said.

He said that, according to Griffin’s mother and witness accounts, Griffin was driving back from Walmart and headed east on 167th past Kedzie, was followed by a car that pulled up alongside him and someone inside began shooting.

A second vehicle came from the opposite direction and someone inside also began shooting, Barnett said.

“It was orchestrated,” he said of the assault.

Barnett said he was headed toward his business and saw that Markham police had blocked 167th, but he was able to get into his yard and “saw the horrific aftermath,” which included a vehicle Griffin was driving that “was riddled with bullet holes.”

According to the Cook County medical examiner’s office, Griffin was pronounced dead at the scene just before 4:30 p.m. Aug. 12, and his death was ruled a homicide.

Barnett said he was a victim of gun violence when he was 16, and that Shawn “did an awful lot of good.”

“But we hang with bad kids and their issues become your issues,” he said. “He associated himself with all the wrong people.”

Public records show Shean Griffin had been arrested in recent years on charges including aggravated battery with a firearm and possession of cannabis.

Barnett said that Griffin’s mother has been caring for a son who was also shot, and has another son and daughter.

He said that she was “very appreciative and overwhelmed with joy” upon seeing photos of the nearly completed memorial.

“She said she has not smiled in the last eight months” since her son’s death, Barnett said. “She had lost a lot of hope.”

Barnett said Griffin’s mom is hopeful those involved in her son’s death will be caught.

“She wants these people to be brought to justice,” he said.