The killing of a successful SF State graduate remains unsolved months after his life was cut short in Chicago, leaving those closest to him with more questions than answers.
Shane Colombo died after receiving multiple gunshot wounds in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago on Sept. 2, just hours before he was set to start a doctorate program at Northwestern University. The 25-year-old student had survived cancer as a youth and propelled himself through school with a determination to succeed.
Colombo’s mother, Tonya Nishimuta Colombo, flew out to Chicago from California last month for a press conference announcement on Jan. 25. On her way from the airport, her Lyft driver unwittingly drove past the street where her son died.
“It was a shock. I started crying the moment I realized where we were,” she said.
Despite an anonymous donation in December bringing the reward for information to $12,000 and surveillance footage of suspects at the scene of the crime, no arrests have been made.
“Everything is kind of in limbo. It’s very frustrating for us to not have any closure,” she said. “All I could think of is these guys are out there doing whatever and my son is in a box.”
Colombo graduated from SF State in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, attending Columbia University for the next two years before accepting a full scholarship at Northwestern University to earn his PhD, according to SF BUILD.
Colombo was on his way to his fiancé and their new apartment in Chicago when two men started shooting at each other. He was transported to St. Francis Hospital shortly before he was pronounced dead, according to Chicago police officer Jessica Rocco.
“I wanted to make sure people knew what Shane was about. He wasn’t a gang member,” Tonya Colombo said. “You could ask any of his friends. He would always make people his priority to make sure they were OK.”
As a single mother, she would often work late into the night while her sister, Tracy Nishimuta, babysat Colombo and his older brother as kids.
“He was just so sweet. When he was a little kid he would put both hands on the sides of your face to make sure you were connecting with him,” Nishimuta said. “He had this big bear hug. He was such an affectionate, loving person.”
Nishimuta remembers her nephew as a strong-willed individual even at an early age. From nearly drowning as a child to surviving cancer as a teen, Colombo always pushed forward.
“I think the story touched a lot of people because this is somebody who had gone so far. The determination and hard work of beating the odds only to have this happen to him,” Nishimuta said. “He went through a lot in his short lifetime. He could have helped a lot of people.”
Colombo’s older brother, Dane Colombo, remembers him as a “sweetheart” who “did what was right without hesitation.”
The Colombo brothers did everything together growing up, from brainstorming ways to buy gifts for their mother to defending each other in a brawl during a punk rock concert.
Colombo dedicated himself to his academic studies while his older brother focused on creating music. Now more than ever, his older brother said music helps him heal.
“Whenever I’m playing music and playing a song, I feel his presence there. I feel like he can see me and hear me,” he said. “I don’t know what happens after death, but I feel like if there’s any way to reach him, it’s music.”
Colombo’s family said they would like people to keep his memory alive, which they hope will encourage someone to come forward and bring his killers to justice.
“He was my little brother. I loved him, and he loved me,” Dane Colombo said. “It makes me angry that they killed him. It’s devastating, but it’s really given me something to strive for. To never give up.”