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University Of Chicago Graduate Who Was Shot And Killed In Robbery Is Identified As Dennis Shaoxiong Zheng; Vigil Held At Site Of His Murder

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A University of Chicago graduate who was shot and killed in a robbery in Hyde Park Tuesday has been identified as Dennis Shaoxiong Zheng.

The Cook County Medical Examiner's office said Zheng, 24, lived in Hyde Park. Zheng had been a statistics masters student at the U of C.

Dennis Shaoxiong Zheng
Dennis Shaoxiong Zheng (Credit: University of Chicago)

Police said Zheng was on the sidewalk on the 900 block of East 54th Place shortly before 2 p.m. – 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. It was not clear whether he even took anything.

The sounds of the gunman's car speeding away stood out after the deadly attempted robbery. Zheng was left bleeding on the sidewalk.

Neighbors attempted to stop the bleeding, but were unsuccessful. Zheng was taken to University of Chicago Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

As CBS 2's Jermont Terry reported, friends gathered for a vigil for Zheng late Wednesday – but they found little comfort as police continued to search for the man who shot and killed him in broad daylight. A constant stream of strangers and friends dropped off countless flowers at a growing memorial, as the sense of fear and shock continued to set in

Messages were left displaying the sentiment of those people who contributed to the memorial – written in both English and Chinese. The overarching theme was that they simply want justice.

"I remember him because' he's always willing to help others," a young woman named Xi said at the vigil.

Zheng received his master's degree in statistics from the U of C in July. Many students passed to reflect.

"Wow, it's really said," said Xi, who had a closer connection. "I kind of feel connected because we're both from China, and I can totally understand it's really hard for the family. I can't imagine what would happen to my parents if they just received a call that says, 'Your daughter has been...' I just feel connected and really sad."

The random act in the middle of the afternoon Tuesday has left so many fearful.

"It could happen to anyone," one student said.

Students are beyond worried, because Zheng was the third U of C student to get murdered this year.

In July, 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.

Back in January, 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.

Now, a memorial is growing for another U of C student.

"I really wish it could be safer, because now it doesn't sound like a very good place to live in, honestly," Xi said.

Earlier Wednesday, University of Chicago President Paul Alivisatos issued a video message to the university community mourning Zheng's loss and announcing plans for a both long- and short-term public safety strategies for the area around the campus.

A message from University of Chicago President Paul Alivisatos on addressing violence in Chicago by The University of Chicago on YouTube

Alivisatos said in part:

"Yesterday we lost a member of our University community, and today we are mourning. Shaoxiong 'Dennis' Zheng was murdered in the course of a robbery in a residential neighborhood near campus. Our deepest sympathies are with his family and loved ones. Dennis came to us from Hong Kong and graduated from the University this summer with a master's degree in statistics. Our community will come together soon to remember him and to honor his life.

"The violence afflicting Chicago is on the same scale as a public health crisis and demands a commensurate response. The University community and our fellow residents of Chicago's South Side — as well as citizens throughout Chicago — see a clear and urgent need to strengthen public safety. We have been in close contact with Mayor (Lori) Lightfoot, Chicago Police Department Superintendent (David) Brown, and other members of the Mayor's team, along with local aldermen. The city is formalizing, with the University's involvement, a number of short and longer-term public safety strategies specifically for Hyde Park and surrounding communities. We will share specifics soon."

Money is being raised to help Zheng's mother fly from China to Chicago. Terry is told Zheng's mother has never left China, and the Chinese Association of Greater Chicago is working to help her expedite her passport that she has never had before so she can become to Chicago and properly bury her son.

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