Daniel R. Patmore  /  AP
Eli Evans, 10, waits for football practice to start Wednesday in Bridgeport, Ill.
updated 9/29/2006 12:42:41 PM ET 2006-09-29T16:42:41

Belting out operatic-sounding songs one moment and doing magic tricks the next, 10-year-old Eli Evans talks of becoming a comedian and football player — no stretch for the 130-pound boy who's already an accomplished ham.

"That's not him showing off," Sam Evans says, shaking his head as he watches his whirling grandson. "That's all the time."

Evans can't help but be bemused by the fifth-grader, a sweet, well-adjusted poster child of survival since the savagery that surrounded his arrival.

Eli now knows what happened Nov. 16, 1995, the day he was ripped full-term from the womb of his 28-year-old mother, who was shot and stabbed to death. Authorities say Eli's father and a woman who wanted the unborn child were among Debra Evans' killers. Eli's 10-year-old sister also was stabbed to death, as was her 7-year-old brother, whose body was found later in an alley.

Eli's brother, Jordan, who was 22 months old, was unharmed. For a time, Sam Evans says, the toddler would recite details of the butchery he witnessed, telling relatives "the bad people" made his mommy and sister bleed.

Not dwelling on the violence
The slayings made headlines around the world and shocked even the most grizzled detectives.

Now 12, Jordan no longer remembers firsthand details. A wiry seventh-grader, he's chasing straight A's, a stronger build through weightlifting and new ways to torment his younger brother.

"I don't know if I'm raising them or they're re-raising me," says Evans, a 58-year-old Vietnam veteran, who is rearing the boys in this east-central Illinois town of 2,200. "I don't have time to grow old. I'm too busy."

The household doesn't dwell on the violence that culminated in a life prison sentence for Levern Ward, the ex-boyfriend of Evans' daughter Debra and father of Eli and Jordan. Two others were ordered executed but spared in 2003 when then-Gov. George Ryan commuted the death sentences of every condemned inmate in Illinois.

Still, Sam Evans says, his grandsons are encouraged to chat with him about their mom as they see fit — dialogue stoked in recent days with news of the horror on the other side of the state.

In East St. Louis, a pregnant woman was found slain in a weedy lot, her fetus cut from her womb. Police are investigating whether a woman charged in those deaths also drowned her dead friend's three young children, found decomposing last weekend in their apartment's washer and dryer.

Eli heard radio accounts of that grisly case, including the possibility that scissors were used to cut out the baby, who died.

"The same kind of thing happened to us, except I lived," his grandfather recalls Eli saying. "You know, grandpa, we're going to be living this the rest of our life."

Nine cases since 1987
They're not alone. Nine cut-from-the-womb cases have been documented since 1987 by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, with Eli and five other children among the living.

"We thank the Lord on a continual basis," Evans says.

Honoring Sam Evans' request, a reporter did not ask the boys about their mother's death, though it's clear Debra Evans isn't far from Eli's thoughts.

In his living room, Eli points to a picture on a bookcase and a decorative egg bearing the same image, then says proudly, "there's my mom, brother and sister."

Minutes later in the kitchen, he asks Evans if the killers still are on death row and is reminded about the commuted sentences.

The answer clearly doesn't sit well with the child.

"They should be on death row," Eli says, his dark eyes widening. "We stand for justice. We ARE the Evans family."

With that, he shifts gears. The self-described dog lover presses his grandfather to let him get a Rottweiler, then shows off pictures of his past pooches _ a Shih Tzu named Buddy, a Rottweiler named Buster.

The next instant, he demonstrates the magic trick of suspending a magnet from his open-faced hand _ carefully concealing a BB pellet between his fingers.

Eli and Jordan dote on their grandfather when he's ailing with his diabetes.

"Their biggest fear is, 'Is grandpa gonna die someday?'" Evans says. "Even though Eli never knew his family, he feels the loss and fears it happening again."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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