A gifted 25-year-old SF State alumnus who had survived cancer was killed when caught in the crossfire of a shooting in Chicago on Sept. 2, just days before starting his PhD program at Northwestern University.
Shane Colombo was an academic all-star, according to his former professors and friends. He survived lymphoma when he was 15 years old and went on to graduate from SF State in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He then attended Columbia University for two years before pursuing a doctorate on a full scholarship at Northwestern University.
“He inspired me and he inspired so many people to be better,” said Colombo’s mother Tonya Nishimuta-Colombo from her home in Southern California. “He was open, caring and always good to other people.”
Colombo died just hours after arriving in Chicago, according to his mother. He was running errands on the evening of Sept. 2 in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago when an unknown gunman began shooting at another man, according to Chicago police officer Jessica Rocco. Colombo was caught in the middle, and sustained multiple gunshot wounds, Rocco said.
On Wednesday, Aug. 5, Chicago police released images of three suspects wanted for their possible involvement in Colombo’s death. No suspects are in custody at this time.
Nishimuta-Colombo said her son wanted to become a psychiatrist so he could “help people deal with the anguish and fear of having cancer.”
“He beat cancer and he hit the ground running,” she said. “He knew that after dealing with that he had to keep going. He kept pushing and fighting.”
She also recalled how selfless her son was and how, even at a young age, he developed a strong work ethic that remained constant throughout his life.
“He raised a lemonade stand as a kid just to buy me things,” she said. “He worked really hard to buy me really nice things that a child usually wouldn’t be able to afford.”
She added that her son was a hard worker, a lover of dancing and tennis and a steadfast scholar.
“We gave each other hope,” she said. “I don’t want to crawl up in a ball and be miserable because he wouldn’t want me to be like that.”
Colombo’s fiancé, Vincent Perez, was also left devastated by his loss.
“He was the meaning of love. He was my reason. My everything,” Perez said in a Tweet on Sept. 5.
Colombo wanted to become a psychologist and spent his adult life working towards that goal. SF State psychology professor Avi Ben-Zeev said he was struck by “how sophisticated his thinking was and how motivated he was.”
“He was incredibly charismatic and he had a big heart,” Ben-Zeev said, adding that Colombo’s achievements make it especially difficult to accept his loss.
“He dealt with incredible odds of not succeeding, then his life was taken away. That can lead to such hopelessness,” he said. “How can we use his life to actually give hope to people who are trying to pursue areas that were historically denied to them?”
A GoFundMe page dedicated to bringing Colombo back home described him as someone who “lived each day with tenacious determination to live life fully, without believing he ‘couldn’t.’”
Colombo’s lab partners from Columbia University described him on the GoFundMe page as “a brilliant scientist whose potential could only be matched by his passion as a researcher.”
In the days following Colombo’s death, donations came pouring in from friends, classmates and even from complete strangers on GoFundMe pages dedicated to supporting his family bring him home to California, and to holding two memorial services in his hometown of San Clemente.
By Sept. 13, the fundraiser’s $25,000 goal had been exceeded by over $1,000.