Updated: Family, friends remember Evanston boy killed in shooting

Ciara McCarthy, Reporter

A 14-year-old Evanston boy was fatally shot on Saturday night in the 1500 block of Church Street.

Evanston Police later identified Dajae Coleman, a freshman at Evanston Township High School, as the victim.

Coleman’s friends and family gathered Sunday afternoon at the shooting site near the intersection of Church and Florence Streets. Friends set up a small memorial with balloons, flowers and a signed basketball that read “R.I.P. Dae Dae,” as he was called by his friends.

“He’s one of the most beautiful kids you’ll probably ever meet,” Coleman’s grandfather Michael Rice said. “He had a smile that could light up a day, an entire day.”

Others paid tribute to Coleman in the virtual world. A friend of Coleman’s posted on LeBron James’ Facebook wall to request a video, letter or tweet from Coleman’s favorite basketball player. The post has received nearly 6,000 likes in the 24 hours. Coleman’s death was also mourned via Twitter by NBA players Kemba Walker, Tyson Chandler, and Paul Pierce.

Helen Pytlewicz, who lives near the site of the shooting, brought flowers there Sunday evening. Pytlewicz was home watching television Saturday when she heard several shots at approximately 10:30 p.m., she said. The next morning, she learned of Coleman’s passing.

“I don’t know them personally, but my kids went to Evanston Township. (These are) our neighbors,” she said. “My heart is breaking for this family.”

Police have released few details regarding the incident, but the Chicago Sun-Times reported Coleman was shot shortly after leaving a party with friends. EPD Cmdr. Jay Parrott said police are making progress with the investigation but declined to release further information.

In the absence of concrete detail, Coleman’s family and friends are mourning his loss and remembering his character.

“It’s just that smile that everybody’s going to miss, his attitude, and how he was dedicated to basketball,” said Carmen McLean, Coleman’s friend and ETHS classmate. McLean remembered Coleman as a positive influence in her life, someone who made her laugh and encouraged her to work hard in school.

Friends also recalled Coleman’s intense dedication to basketball and said he dreamed of being a professional player like his idol James.

“Basketball was his everything,” McLean said.

Dudley Brown, the president of basketball league Fellowship of Afro-American Men, met Coleman when he played for the league in middle school. He said Coleman was not just an athlete, but also a good student. Recalling a respectful and obedient player, Brown said all who knew Coleman attested to the fact that he shied away from trouble. Brown said he firmly believes Coleman was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

According EPD annual reports, homicide remains a rare occurrence. There were five homicides in Evanston in 2010, reduced to three in 2011. Coleman’s murder marks the first homicide in Evanston so far this year. Overall, incidents involving handguns have declined dramatically in the past five years, from 137 in 2007 to 77 in 2011.

ETHS will offer grief counseling for all students this week. On Monday, the school announced the creation of a memorial fund for Coleman’s family.

The high school has also posted a copy of Coleman’s most recent paper, written for his humanities class just last week, about the support Coleman has received from family and friends in his life.

“I get a lot of support from my family; they made me the person I am today,” Coleman wrote.

Although the future of the police investigation is still uncertain, Coleman’s family and friends continue to remember him as a well-loved boy with a bright future.

“Northwestern would have been recruiting him,” Rice said. “He was that type of kid, athletics and academics. He had unlimited potential.”

This story has been updated to reflect Chicago Sun-Times as the source of Coleman’s activities before the shooting.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of homicides in Evanston this year. Coleman’s death is the first homicide. The Daily regrets the error.