Orrin Thomas enjoyed sitting on the back deck of his Forest Park home and discussing life with his stepson, William Berry.
"We'd talk about life and he'd say how great it feels to be free," Thomas said yesterday.
His memories are tinged with sadness now because Monday night, Berry, 28, of the 4100 block of Penhurst Ave., was shot to death in a drug-infested area of Forest Park.
Funeral services are to be at noon Friday at March funeral establishment on Wabash Avenue, Thomas said.
Berry was killed outside an apartment complex in the 2900 block of Garrison Blvd.
Residents told police that two men ran past Berry and fired one shot. As they fled, one man asked the other, "Did you get him?"
Northwestern District police found Berry lying on the ground a few feet from the street and several yards from the front door of an apartment building.
Police said Berry's death -- the city's ninth homicide of 1991 -- may have been drug-related. An unused syringe was found near his body.
However, Thomas, who has two other sons, shakes his head at the thought that Berry might have been using drugs. He said syringes often are discarded on the streets in the area. If Berry were using drugs, they should have been found on his body, Thomas said.
"I don't think it was drug-related," he said. "They went to rob him, because he didn't have a dollar on him.
"When he left [his girlfriend's house], he had $130" from a recent paycheck as an assistant manager at a Jiffy Lube outlet, Thomas said.
Police would not say whether there was money on the body.
Thomas said Berry had quit taking drugs after a near-death experience with speedball, a form of crack cocaine, six months ago.
"He almost died . . . and he swore he'd never take any more drugs, and he didn't," Thomas said.
The experience made Berry "realize what life was about," Thomas said, adding that Berry changed his bad habits. He would come home and tell his parents he loved them, his stepfather said.
Still, even if Berry's death were drug-related, "does that give a person the right to shoot someone?" Thomas asked.
"It's an assumption any time someone black gets shot, it's because of drugs. It's a bad assumption."