CHICAGO, Oct. 1, 2010 -- Is the gun-wielding widow who wounded a menacing 12-year-old boy a hero or a dangerous granny with a gun who over-reacted? That's the debate stirred by the actions of an elderly woman on Chicago's South Side this week.
On Tuesday, Margaret Matthews, 68, decided she'd had enough of two young boys, ages 12 and 13, who she said had been harassing her in her South Shore home for more than a year. When she returned to her home near 76th St. and Coles Ave. from grocery shopping that day, she noticed broken windows and the two boys running away.
When they returned, the widowed grandmother stood on her porch and confronted them. Allegedly, they replied by hurling bricks and rocks at her. She said one hit her in the chest.
"I was terrified," said Matthews, adding she went inside and grabbed a gun.
She called police, but worried they might come too late. So she said she went back outside and fired at the boys, wounding the 12-year-old in the shoulder.
"I was either going to be a victim or a villain," Matthews told ABC affiliate WLS-TV. "I did what I had to do to protect myself."
Police agreed and decided not to charge Matthews. The boys face charges of aggravated assault.
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Meanwhile, in a neighborhood troubled by violent crime, the pistol-packin' grandma neighbors call "Miss Margaret" now is being called a hero.
The boy? Not so much, at least in Matthews' circles.
"His name? As far as I know him, I call him the little bad boy," said Hilda Brunt, who lives down the street. "He broke her window. He set her grill on fire. He started a fire last year across the street at the row houses. I had to call the fire department."
Frenchie Johnson, a neighbor who helped replace Matthews' broken window, said Tuesday's incident was the latest of many.
"She talked to me on Friday and said, 'Frenchie, I've done had enough,'" he said. "They set the garbage can on fire, her barbeque pit. This isn't the first time they busted a window. It's bad."
The 12-year-old boy's family told another story, insisting the boy didn't break the window and the shooting was unprovoked.
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"I hope they took her to jail. I hope so. Something's wrong with her," said the boy's grandmother, Donna Virges. "My blood pressure has gone sky high thinking about what could have happened to him.
"Maybe he has something in his past. What child hasn't?" said Rhonda Jackson, a neighbor. "But you just take your gun and shoot a child?"
Police decided Matthews, a retired day care worker who was widowed two years ago, committed no crime. According to Illinois law, Matthews' use of force qualifies as self defense if she "reasonably believed that such force was necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm."
Matthews takes issue with anyone who calls her a hero.
"There is nothing heroic about any individual getting hurt by another individual's hand," she said. "I pray for this young man and am so happy he'll be alright."
Matthews said she has no plans to leave the home she's lived in for decades and hopes Tuesday's incident is a turning point for her neighborhood and her young neighbor.
"I'm sorry that all of this happened," she said. "I hope and pray that something positive can come from what happened to him.
"He might not realize it," she added, "but I might have saved his life, because if he keeps on going on the path he's on someone else may not be so lenient.
"This way," she said, "he's got a chance."