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University Of Chicago Holds Safety Meeting In Wake Of Violent Crimes Near Campus

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The University of Chicago late Tuesday held a meeting on trying to tackle crime near the Hyde Park campus.

The meeting was a roundtable discussion with a virtual audience through Zoom. The university's efforts come in the wake of several violent crimes involving U of C students over the last year.

Three students have been killed. Most recently, Dennis Zheng – who had just graduated – was shot and killed during a robbery at 54th Place and Ellis Avenue on on Tuesday, Nov. 9.

Police said Zheng was on the sidewalk shortly before 2 p.m. Tuesday – when out of nowhere, a vehicle pulled up, and a gunman jumped out and demanded his property.

The attacker then shot Zheng in the chest, got back in the vehicle, and fled the scene.

Alton Spann, 18, was later charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery, and two counts of unlawful use of a weapon in Zheng's murder. Police said that it was all over a cellphone that was later sold for $100.

Zheng was one of three University of Chicago students killed in 2021.

In July 2021, someone shot and killed Max Lewis on the Chicago Transit Authority Green Line near 51st Street. Lewis was struck by a stray bullet while riding the Green Line.

Lewis, 20, was a rising third-year in the College at the U of C. He just accepted an investment banking offer he'd been working so hard for and was riding home from his summer internship downtown when his life was cut short.

In January 2021, 30-year-old Ph.D. student Yiran Fan, 30, was shot and killed when Jason Nightengale went on a killing spree from the South Side of Chicago to Evanston. Fan was a student in a joint program of the Booth School of Business and the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics.

Fan was shot and killed in the parking garage at the Regents Park building, at 5035 S. East End Ave. in a section of the East Hyde Park-Kenwood neighborhood known as Indian Village. A total of five people ultimately died as a result of Nightengale's shooting spree before he was shot and killed by Evanston police.

"The pain that we have experienced at their loss is what is felt on a daily basis by far too many communities on the South and West sides of the city," U of C President Paul Alivisatos said at the safety meeting. "We sometimes refer to 'the university community' and 'local communities.' The reality is we are deeply intertwined.

Following Zheng's murder, the university said Chicago Police and University of Chicago Police would be working more jointly moving forward. A safety plan discussed in the wake of the shooting entailed live cameras from a new operations center soon set to open, and keeping campus police and students in the loop about crime in the area – as students had been demanding.

The virtual meeting Tuesday night centered around programs and investments needed in neighborhoods near campus. Among the participants was Valerie Jarrett, who was a senior adviser to former President – and onetime U of C Law School lecturer – Barack Obama.

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