The 19-year-old son of a Chicago police officer was shot and killed Sunday morning, hours before he was due to return to college in New York, police and family members said.
The shooting took place in the Wrightwood neighborhood on the Southwest Side just after midnight, according to police.
Neighbors in the 2900 block of West 82nd Street reported hearing several gunshots. Police arrived to find 19-year-old Arshell Dennis and another man, age 20, wounded by gunfire.
Dennis and a hometown friend were hanging out on the front porch of a residence when a gunman approached, possibly from a vehicle, and opened fire, police officials said.
Dennis was hit in the chest and taken to Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, where he was pronounced dead less than an hour after he was shot, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
The 20-year-old man was shot in the arm and side. He was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn in serious condition.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi confirmed that Dennis’ father is a Chicago police officer. Officer Arshell “Chico” Dennis and Superintendent Eddie Johnson once worked together as patrol officers in the Gresham District, Guglielmi said.
“Officer Dennis dedicated his life to make this city safer, and his son Arshell was a good kid, making his parents proud and studying for a promising future as a journalist,” Johnson said in a statement. “As always, the men and women of the CPD will stop at nothing to find who was responsible and bring a sense of closure and justice to Officer Dennis and all families affected by violence.
“But in order to address the root of this violence, we must change the way the criminal justice system treats the reckless, repeat gun offenders who are causing this violence and send a clear message that when you are involved in gun crimes you will be held accountable.”
Dennis’ slaying added to the mounting violence this year. As of Thursday, 436 people had been slain in the city and 2,534 had been wounded by gunfire, according to a Tribune analysis.
The younger Dennis, whom relatives called “Trey,” was a student at St. John’s University in New York City, according to his grandfather.
The teenager was about to start his junior year as a journalism major at St. John’s, relatives said. He arrived in town Thursday to see his mother before starting the school year and was planning to leave for New York on Sunday afternoon.
“He was a beautiful young man, full of laughs and always teasing us,” said his grandfather, also named Arshell Dennis. “It’s a deep loss, and it hurts. I wish this senseless killing would stop.”
Dennis’ death is being investigated as a case of mistaken identity, based on what detectives know about Dennis’ family, about that block and about the neighborhood, according to Guglielmi.
“There was nothing in the victim’s history that would suggest he is involved or associated in gangs, and he had no criminal record. Neither of the victims have criminal history or gang history or history with the CPD,” Guglielmi said.
Additionally, Dennis’ father was known to everyone on the block as a Chicago police officer. A motive or any idea of who the assailant was trying to target remained unclear, Guglielmi said, adding that there was nothing to suggest anyone else was with Dennis and his friend when the shooting happened. It was not known if Officer Dennis was at work or home at the time of the incident.
Detectives are canvassing the area, looking for video surveillance that could have captured the shooting. There is no description yet on the gunman, but authorities will be speaking to the 20-year-old friend who remains hospitalized. No arrests have been made.
“Hopefully within the next few hours there will be leads in the case,” Guglielmi said Sunday afternoon.
About a half-mile away, Denzell Mickel was shot multiple times Aug. 8 while driving a Lexus near 83rd Place and Kedzie Avenue before running off the road into a nearby yard. Guglielmi said it was too soon to say if Mickel’s death had any connection to Dennis’ slaying.
As a high school student, Dennis belonged to a college preparatory program called Upward Bound, according to director Gerald Smith. Last summer, he came back to work for Upward Bound as an ambassador.
“He was one of my better students, he really was,” Smith said. “Arshell was a fun time. He was real easygoing, real quiet, laid back, mild-mannered — he wasn’t a problem at all. It’s a tragic loss.”
Smith said it was Upward Bound students who reached out to him Sunday morning to tell him about Dennis’ death.
“I got the phone call, and my heart just fell to my stomach,” he said. “So, so unexpected. … I’m still in disbelief.”
Neighbors, whether they’ve lived on the block for decades or only a few years, said they were shocked by the violence.
Gloria Samaniego said the neighborhood has escaped violence for the 38 years she has lived in her home. Sunday morning she was returning from her shift at Rush University Medical Center, where she had spent the day watching the aftermath of gun violence unfold.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my God, another shooting,'” she said. “Then I came home … and someone had died two doors down.”
Pat Williams, who also lives on the same block as the Dennis family, said she had specifically chosen the neighborhood for its safety and community. She said she heard six shots from her gangway, then watched as dozens of officers and first responders swarmed the sidewalks and front yards of her neighborhood.
“The reason we moved here was to get away from the hustle and bustle and the violence,” Williams said. “I’m just confused. I’m hoping it’s an isolated thing. I hope there’s not more other violence.”
Carol, who lives at the end of the block and asked to be identified only by her first name, said she heard eight or nine gunshots.
When she called 911, she was told that 10 or 20 others had reported the gunfire.
“They had gotten an enormous amount of calls,” she said.
She looked out her window to see blue flashing lights and someone lying on the ground.
The neighborhood is tight-knit, she said. The lawns are kept neat, and the block club is active. Carol heard the bad news from the person above her on the neighborhood phone tree: The son of their neighbor, just home from college, had been shot dead, she was told.
“I’m so tired of this,” she said. “I’m so tired of hearing about our kids getting killed, shot.”
Another neighbor, who would only identify herself as Brenda, said she also heard the shots, followed by the sound of Dennis’ mother.
“You do not want to hear a mother’s cry for her son,” she said.
Brenda described Dennis as a considerate and respectful boy who took the time to learn his neighbors’ names and to travel back to surprise a mother, who had fallen ill a few months back.
“He always stayed on the block,” Brenda said through tears, “and he got killed in front of the house.”
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