SF State graduate Shane Colombo’s loved ones gathered at his memorial service on Friday, in disbelief that the young man’s promising future was cut short by gun violence.
“It feels like he’s just away still in Chicago. I can still feel the last hug he gave me,” said Colombo’s older brother Dane Colombo.
Colombo arrived in Chicago on Sept. 2 to begin his doctorate at Northwestern University. He was walking alone that evening when two men opened fire at each other and killed him in the crossfire.
Colombo had planned to become a psychologist and attended college at SF State and Columbia University in New York. He survived lymphoma at 15 years old and went on to excel in his studies.
Colombo’s fiancé Vincent Perez said he was a go-getter who loved to dance, socialize and help people.
“He was amazing. He was beautiful, he was the most handsome man I ever met,” Perez said.
The two fell in love at SF State and were preparing to live together in Chicago.
Perez said the first time they met, Perez “wasn’t prepared to fall in love with him, let alone even talk to him.” But they quickly became inseparable.
On Friday, Sept. 7, Colombo’s family offered a $2,000 reward for information on the suspects involved in the shooting. No one has stepped forward yet.
“I shouldn’t have to reward someone to speak out against this injustice,” Perez said. “But being a minority myself, you’re taught to stay silent. And that’s what these communities are also being taught.”
Colombo’s death has compelled Perez to take a stand against gun violence and consider running for office in Chicago.
“We need to address this as a mental health and community issue, the statistics don’t lie,” Perez said. “There are things we need to fundamentally change and if they’re not going to change it, who is?”
Police say Colombo’s death is just one of the 382 homicides Chicago has experienced this year from the notorious gun violence that has plagued the city for decades.
“We have a sad mix of easy access to guns and an absence of hope,” said Illinois state Representative Kelly Cassidy. “It’s a very toxic combination.”
Cassidy lives a few blocks away from where Colombo was killed in Rogers Park and is no stranger to Chicago’s gun violence.
“Two years ago, my son was pitching at a baseball game when a shooting broke out across the street and we had to evacuate the park,” Cassidy said.
Colombo was not the first unintended victim in the area. A drive-by shooting also took the life of a 64-year-old schoolteacher in October 2017.
Cassidy blames the rampant shootings on neighboring states with lax gun laws, local gun stores and a lack of job opportunities.
“We went through a three-year budget standoff where we saw these violence prevention, social service and healthcare programs eliminated. The safety net for these people was decimated,” Cassidy said.
Chicago suffered a devastating rise in homicides when 764 people were killed in 2016, an increase of 58 percent from 2015, according to the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab.
The Crime Lab conducts non-partisan research on gun violence and struggled to explain why Chicago experienced such a deadly year.
In a Crime Lab report titled “Gun Violence in Chicago, 2016,” researchers found that the clearance rate, or “chance of arrest for homicides and shootings,” was not keeping pace with the increase in gun violence.
Crime Lab researchers reported Chicago’s gun violence was “disportionately affecting the city’s most disadvantaged residents,” and most of its victims and suspects were “African American men, more often than not having had some prior encounter with the criminal justice system.”
The state of Illinois cut funding for its violence prevention programs during a budget crisis in 2015. A street outreach program known as Cure Violence was gutted despite reducing shootings by 41 to 73 percent across seven Chicago communities and eliminating retaliatory killings in five of them, according to a National Institute of Justice evaluation led by Northwestern University in 2009.
The founder of Cure Violence, Dr. Gary Slutkin, blamed the budget cuts for the high homicide rate in 2016. Funding has since returned to the program, which treats gun violence as a contagious disease.
“Government priorities are off,” Slutkin said. “Chicago has been completely inconsistent.”
Colleen Daley, Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence executive director, said the problem is not unique to Chicago.
“Gun violence can happen anywhere, at any time and at any place,” Daley said. “One life is way too many.”
The Chicago Police Department created a community policing program known as the “Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy” in 1992, but critics say this is not enough.
“There is no single policy or simple solution,” Daley said. “If you’ve got parents who are working all the time to keep the lights on and pay the bills, who’s at home for the kids? The streets are there, and the gangs take them in.”