24-year-old who recently earned his master’s from University of Chicago is shot, killed in Hyde Park

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Friends and community members gathered on Wednesday evening to light candles and leave notes and flowers in an area in Hyde Park where a University of Chicago graduate was shot and killed during a robbery.

What happened: On Tuesday, Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng, 24, was on the sidewalk on the 900 block of East 54th Place, an area known as a neighborhood of doctors and professors, before 2 p.m., when the deadly attempted robbery occurred, CBS Chicago reported.

  • Witnesses recalled seeing a man with a mask in a black hooded sweatshirt get out of a car that pulled up to where Zheng was walking. A brief struggle ensued before the suspect fatally shot Zheng in the chest, according to Chicago Tribune.

  • The suspect immediately fled in a dark-colored sports car. It was not made clear if the gunman managed to take anything from Zheng during the incident.

  • A doctor, who wished to remain anonymous, told Chicago Tribune he was “a few minutes too late” when he attempted to provide first aid to Zheng. “It all happened pretty fast. I did maybe 30 chest compressions, and the paramedics were already here,” he said.

  • Emergency responders took Zheng to the nearby University of Chicago Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 2:13 p.m., which the university confirmed through a statement on Tuesday.

  • The university said it had spoken with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Police Supt. David Brown and other members of the mayor’s team about the wave of violence that has hit the community recently.

  • The Chinese American Association at Greater Chicago has set up a GoFundMe campaign to help Zheng’s family travel from China to the U.S. The crowdfunding campaign has a $25,000 goal but has already raised more than $38,000 as of this writing.

The aftermath: Community members gathered and held a vigil in the area where Zheng was murdered on Wednesday. Some students also reflected on the tragic event that brought fear to those living in Hyde Park.

  • “I remember him because he’s always willing to help others,” a student named Xi told CBS Chicago. “I kind of feel connected because we’re both from China, and I can totally understand it’s really hard for the family. I can’t imagine what would happen to my parents if they just received a call that says, ‘Your daughter has been…’ I just feel connected and really sad.”

  • Mei Wang, director of the statistics master’s program, described Zheng as a “motivated, independent and intellectually curious” student. He received his master’s degree in statistics in July.

  • “He aspired to be a data scientist who could solve important problems facing our society, and who could help people to help more people,” Wang told Chicago Sun-Times.

  • The victim “was not only a promising scholar but also a wonderful person, always willing to help other students,” Professor Dan Nicolae said. “He will be missed by all who knew him.”

  • “We feel this is really, really probably the worst year for U of Chicago,” a woman told Chicago Sun-Times. “We feel we have to do something, you just cannot let it go on forever.”

The violence: Hyde Park has seen five murders this year and at least 16 shooting incidents, according to police data.

  • “The five murders in Hyde Park this year are shocking and demand action, but we also must not lose sight of the fact that there are many other neighborhoods in the city that year after year suffer many more homicides and shootings — and that too should be shocking,” Roseanna Ander, executive director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab and Education Lab, said.

  • The city saw 336 homicide cases for the first half of 2021, which is two more than the same period in 2020 and 33% more than the 252 cases in 2019, NBC Chicago reported. There were also 1,892 shootings through June 28, from the beginning of the year.

Featured Image University of Chicago via University of Chicago (left), CBS Chicago (right)

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