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Transgender Woman Reported Missing Following Brain Surgery

by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
2015-05-14

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Updated May 15

A 28-year-old Chicago transgender woman named Sherry Berry been missing now for nine days following May 6, 2015 reports filed by her family and the Chicago Police Department (CPD).

According to her father Jerry Nicholas and family friend Derek Banks she had undergone brain surgery at Rush University Medical Center April 27. The surgery followed an incident which Banks said Berry vaguely remembered as being pushed down a flight of stairs.

Nicholas told Windy City Times that the family noted multiple injuries and lacerations to his daughter’s face and body when visiting her following surgery. He stated that on May 6 an individual who was not a family member visited his daughter at Rush. Shortly after she was permitted to sign herself out and left the hospital.

Berry has not been seen since.

“She has a twin sister named Princess,” Nicholas told Windy City Times, adding that the emotional impact of Berry’s disappearance has been devastating for her five siblings and her parents, but particularly heartbreaking for her twin. “She accepts Sherry as her sister because this is her life now.”

Trying to contain his emotion, Nicholas detailed that life—one fraught with challenges that began when Berry was six. “She was taken from school and arrested by the CPD when she was six,” he said. “They took her and put handcuffs on her. They took all six of our children away with juvenile arrest warrants.”

Nicholas asserted that, to this day, neither he nor his wife Joanne have any idea why their children were taken away from them. “We never went to court. They never did nothing about it. We had no legal help. It didn’t make any sense.”

He said that Berry was placed in a home with Princess and two of her other siblings. “The home Sherry was raised in was dangerous. When she was eight she almost died,” Berry said. “A lot of what she went through contributed to her having difficulties in school and in life in general.”

It would be 10 years before Nicholas and his wife saw her again. “She was 16, going to school, working at Burger King and as a life guard,” he said. “When she first saw us, she couldn’t believe it. Then she told us what had happened to her.”

Nicholas said that as a child Berry was placed in the home of a relative. “How they obtained custody, we don’t know. [She was allegedly raped], Sherry got Chlamydia and a respiratory infection. The Children’s Advocacy Center knew about this and they did nothing.”

According to Nicholas, Berry was instead admitted to Michael Reese Hospital on Chicago’s South Side. “She was in the psychiatric facility,” he said. “Sherry told us they restrained her and she got electroshock therapy. But she didn’t have psychotic episodes. Never tried to kill herself. She just kept saying ‘my parents are going to save me’.”

Nicholas insisted that while agencies such as the Department of Children & Family Services and Catholic Charities knew about Berry’s case nothing was done. “They never came to her rescue,” he said. “All these psychotic drugs were injected into her and she was never the same again. Her nervous system, her writing skills were completely destroyed. She inherited seizures, asthma, severe headaches.”

The Michael Reese facility has since closed.

At 16, Sherry began her transition. “She was discriminated against,” Nicholas said. “They denied her low-income housing. Workplaces were mistreating her. She was treated like she didn’t deserve to be equally protected. The streets just took her over. She turned to alcohol, smoking, cocaine. She became homeless. But she never came to us. Our daughter would write us off saying ‘we don’t love her.’ I kept saying ‘We do. We accept you. We don’t accept what happened to you. We don’t like it.’ She didn’t want to stay with us.”

Nicholas said that Berry survived by engaging in the sex-trade.

On April 25, 2015 Berry left her sister Caroline’s home at 4 a.m. “We don’t know why,” Nicholas said.

Two days later she was admitted into Saint Bernard Hospital on the South Side. At 3 p.m. she was transferred to Rush where she underwent brain surgery the same day.

“We’ve no idea what happened to her,” Nicholas asserted. “All we know is that the clothing we recovered after she was at Rush was soaking wet with the smell of beer all over it. Her skull was fractured. The bruising on the top of the right side of her head was swollen real big. There were scratches and a whole lot of scarring—like cuts—on her back on both sides. Her lips and her left eye was swollen. The stitches from the surgery went from the top of her forehead all the way to the back of her neck. She was strapped down and hooked up to a ventilator. It was terrible to see her like that.”

Nicholas added that Berry had no memory of what happened to her. Rush informed the family she would need to remain at the facility for rehabilitation. They were also concerned about a blood clot in her stomach.

“Everything was going fine,” he said. “May 4 was the last time we saw our daughter. It is unconfirmed why on May 6 Rush let an unknown stranger come up there and convince our daughter to sign herself out. He came up there with a wig for Sherry and he left with her. We’ve never heard from her or seen her since.”

“Rush told us that visiting restrictions were put in place on April 28,” Nicholas added. “If we didn’t know [a person], they couldn’t see her without a code or our consent. Only we could as her parents. We don’t understand why this guy was allowed into her room. This would have never happened. I asked Rush how this person was allowed to step by security even with the restrictions placed on her room in order to be protected. She could barely walk. She lost a tremendous amount of weight [current weight 120lbs according to the CPD report]. But they let her sign herself out. Rush don’t care. They explained nothing to us. They said ‘she’s grown and she wanted to leave’. There’s something wrong here.”

Nicholas at least knows the name and last known address of the stranger—information he provided to the CPD when he made the missing person’s report to the 4th District May 6.

“We told them the areas of Uptown, Belmont, Fullerton everywhere she was prostituting herself and nobody ever tried to save her. People on 79th and Marquette got her hooked on cocaine and had access to her [social security] debit card. On May 1 they attempted to get cash from it. I was able to stop that. On May 4, I went over to Social Security to get the card suspended. I don’t know how long it’s been going on that someone has been taking her money and using the food stamps on her Link card.”

Nicholas has asked the CPD multiple times if they have questioned or at least found the individual who left the hospital with Berry. “They’re not responding,” he said. “I told the police this is serious. They know her life is in danger. They know the medical problems. Their conduct has been discriminatory. They’re treating her as if she is nothing.”

He added he was very clear to the CPD that Berry is a transgender woman. The CPD report issued and then reprinted by the Chicago Sun-Times May 7 listed her as male with a scar from the brain surgery and tattoos reading “mom,” “Deborah,” “Tina” and “Sherry.”

“We told them she was transgender, that her life was in danger,” Nicholas said. “I think whoever tried to get her money on May 1 still want it but they can’t it get anymore. We believe somebody is holding her.”

Meanwhile Nicholas said that at this point the CPD have gone silent. “The detective [assigned] is a trainee. She doesn’t return my calls.”

Nicholas added that he is also angry with the Sun-Times. “The reporter did not contact us as to who Sherry is instead of just writing this sample,” he said. “I’m upset about it. The police wanted to put the picture of her in the paper of Sherry in the hospital with a bald head.”

Banks has known Berry and the family for eight years. He told Windy City Times that three or four days after she was reported missing he received a call from an unknown individual. “Some guy called me and said that he had talked to Sherry on the phone and she was doing OK,” Banks said adding that he has not heard from Sherry herself and that the unidentified caller has not been in contact since.

Banks confirmed Nicholas’s story of what occurred between April 27 and May 6 at Rush. “I haven’t spoken with the CPD personally but let me put it like this—it ain’t found them yet,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re making it a big issue. I don’t know if they went to the man’s house. I haven’t heard anything. The situation she is in could be dangerous for her.”

He added that when Berry was in the hospital she had begun to slowly remember details of what had happened to her. “She told me somebody threw her down the stairs,” Banks said.

Nicholas noted that Berry thought it was the same individual who would eventually leave the hospital with her. “She said that [name redacted] knocked her down the stairs and threw her out of the house on April 25 after she refused to have sex with him.”

“I don’t think anybody should be leaving the hospital a week after brain surgery,” Banks asserted. “Even as an adult a family member should be contacted from the hospital for you to be able to sign out and they should have to come and pick you up.”

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th Ward) and Affinity Community Services have also released fliers appealing for the community’s help in locating Sherry.

“The system has failed Sherry completely—from childhood to this very day,” Affinity Executive Director Kim Hunt told Windy City Times. “I talked to her father and he did go into the DCFS stuff but also talked about how when Sherry made her transition she was not able to find resources to support her. Even though she apparently has a very loving family they couldn’t find resources either. Because of this, there was no role model for her.”

Affinity is reaching out to each of its partners for help as well as Commissioner of the city’s Commission Human Relations, Mona Noriega.

State Rep. Greg Harris knows the family. “This is very concerning,” he told Windy City Times. “We need to find out what is going on and give the family some peace of mind.”

Nicholas has a message to those who may be holding his daughter.

“We want whoever is holding her to let her leave of her own free will,” Nicholas said. “Don’t hurt her any further. Let her go. Let her be. She doesn’t deserve it. This is not her fault. She needs counseling and healing. She needs to be with us and her brothers and sisters who love her dearly. We cannot sleep until she is returned.”

Windy City Times reached out to Rush University Medical Center in order to determine why a woman was allowed to sign herself a little over a week after having brain surgery, in her condition and with a stranger despite the visitation restrictions Nicholas said were supposed to be enforced. Their only response to these questions was “the patient was medically cleared for discharge.”

As of publication, the CPD has yet to reply to Windy City Times inquiries.

Anyone with information regarding Sherry’s whereabouts is asked to contact Area South Special Victims Unit at 312-747-8274.

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