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Gunman says he planned to “blow up whole community” before going on Chicago shooting spree

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Update: 7 victims reported, 5 fatalities.

Bobbie Lawrie was talking with a longtime door woman and a 77-year-old neighbor moments before a gunman walked into her East Hyde Park condo building and shot the other two women, killing one.

“We were just having a good time chitchatting on a Saturday afternoon, totally oblivious to what was to come,” said Lawrie, who lives in one of about 70 condos in the Barclay building in the 4900 block of South East End Avenue. “We were talking about Mesler (Kitchen), our favorite restaurant in the neighborhood. Miss Hinton was telling us about her trip to New Orleans where her brother is a chef. In fact, a delivery driver had just dropped off a cake for Mardi Gras that he’d sent her.”

Lawrie’s building was one of multiple locations across two cities in which three people were killed and four injured in a shooting spree that police tied to a single gunman — a man who apparently had made threats in rambling videos posted to social media before the shootings and before he engaged with Evanston police, who fatally shot him.

Aisha Nevell, 46, who had long worked the door of Lawrie’s building was among those killed. Yiran Fan, 30, a resident of China and doctoral student at the University of Chicago and Anthony Faulkner, 20, who had been in a convenience store when he was shot, were also killed. The 77-year-old woman, Shirley Hinton, was shot in the head and listed in critical condition, according to police and neighbors.

Authorities identified the shooter as Jason Nightengale, 32, and accused him of “just randomly” selecting targets from Chicago’s Far South Side to Evanston, shooting a girl as young as 15 as she sat in the backseat of her mother’s vehicle to a woman of 81, Chicago police superintendent David Brown said.

 Jason Nightengale (Chicago Police Department)

No motive has been released, but one of the short videos posted to a social media page thought to be Nightengale’s seemed to allude to a plan to find random strangers to shoot, saying, “I’m lookin’ for somebody by thyself.” In another video, he could be heard saying: “I’m going to blow up the whole community.”

In the aftermath of the attacks, friends, relatives and loved ones struggled to make sense of their loss.

Lawrie said Nevell was kind and generous with her time, the type of person other tenants would ask after if she wasn’t working.

“She was a beautiful woman inside and out. She had a club or group of girlfriends that were real foodies — their goal was to eat at every restaurant in Chicago,” Lawrie said. “She was a mother; she adored her kids. She was really kind and thoughtful. We have some elderly residents and one, on her days off, Aisha would take her to her doctor’s appointments. That’s just something she did; nobody paid her extra for it.”

Lawrie said Nevell also liked to travel with her girlfriends and frequently took mini-vacations of three days or so. Most recently she’d visited California and Las Vegas before the pandemic began, Lawrie said. Standing in the lobby with Hinton and Nevell, Lawrie said she’d intended only to talk a few minutes but stayed there more than an hour because she so enjoyed their conversation.

Moments later, Nevell went to the door.

“She had gone to open the door for him because we think she may have recognized him as somebody who was here in the neighborhood. She went to let him in,” Lawrie said, noting she kept chatting with others in the lobby.

Then we heard gunshots, Lawrie said. “We tried to get out of the lobby, the other woman and myself. And now the other woman is in the hospital.”

Michael Ahasay, a 21-year resident and treasurer of the Barclay condo board said he and other residents couldn’t understand the seemingly random violence in their small upscale lake-facing side of Hyde Park separated from the rest of the neighborhood by Metra viaducts.

“It’s difficult. Everyone (who lives here) is having a very hard time,” Ahasay, 60, told the Tribune by telephone on Sunday.

“She was a very lovely and kind person that worked at the Barclay … she’s going to be very much missed from this senseless act,” he said.

Condo officials reviewed surveillance video that showed Nevell speaking with the gunman for several minutes before he appeared to ask to use the phone, Ahasay said.

When it appeared that she resisted his request, he “rifled through his jacket, turned and shot her as she was trying to flee through the front door, but she ended up making her way, getting out of the building. But she had already been shot,” he said.

The gunman then fired into the lobby, hitting the 77-year-old resident at least three times. The third woman, Lawrie, wasn’t harmed.

Earlier in the day, Fan had been sitting in his vehicle in East Hyde Park, texting with his girlfriend, according to police. When she didn’t hear back from him, she went to the garage, where she found him fatally shot. Police later said Fan’s was the first shooting of Nightengale’s rampage that would end with his own death in Evanston.

“Yiran is remembered as a smart and incredibly talented student, highly respected by his peers and beloved by all who knew him,” said a statement from Madhav Rajan, dean of the Booth School of Business at University of Chicago. He added that Fan “was hoping to propose his dissertation later this year.”

Rajan’s update to alumni said Fan had been working on research projects, had been a teaching assistant in the fall and served as the Fama-Miller Professional Development Fellow for the 2020-21 academic year, working with current research professionals on their professional development. Fan previously also was on staff as a research professional at the Fama-Miller Center for Research in Finance, Rajan noted.

After leaving the Barclay condo building, Nightengale is accused of following a man to the 19th floor of another nearby building and demanding the keys to the man’s red Toyota at 3 p.m. Saturday. Nightengale is then accused of entering a convenience store and announcing a robbery in the 9300 block of South Halsted Street in the Brainerd neighborhood, Brown said. He shot in the head 20-year-old Anthony Faulkner, who Brown called “just a random victim.”

Faulkner was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in critical condition and later pronounced dead, Brown said. An 81-year-old woman in the convenience store was also shot in the back and the neck, and she was also taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in critical condition.

At 4 p.m. in the 10300 block of South Halsted Street in the Washington Heights neighborhood, a 15-year-old girl was shot in the head while she was being driven by her mother, Tiffany McNeal, Brown said. McNeal’s daughter, Damia Smith, 15, was taken to Comer Children’s Hospital in critical condition.

“She’s holding on,” McNeal said of her only child. “They’re just saying it’s not looking good. But I’m believing. I’m believing in God.”

The pair were headed home in McNeal’s 2020 Chevrolet Equinox after a quick trip to a CVS, McNeal said. Smith was in the backseat as McNeal drove east on 103rd and made a right onto Halstead going south. Then she heard gunshots and her window had been shot out. She drove to a gas station where someone called 911, she said.

Her daughter attended Morgan Park High School where she was on the dance team and also was a praise dancer for her church, Glory to Glory New Life Center, where the congregation has been praying for Smith to recover. McNeal said her daughter hasn’t regained consciousness since the shooting.

“She is a vibrant 15-year-old that just lived to laugh and made you smile all the time. She liked to dance and be on social media and she loved her friends,” McNeal said.

Smith has two sisters on her father’s side, McNeal said. “I’m numb. She’s my only …” she said, trailing off in grief.

The Evanston police shooting happened near Howard Street and Western Avenue early Saturday evening immediately after the gunman “accosted” a woman shopping in a CVS and shot a woman inside a nearby restaurant, according to Evanston police chief Demetrious Cook.

“We had one of our citizens in there shopping and she was accosted by this man who fired some shots in there,” Cook said, although it seemed no one was injured in that attack. Then the man ran across the street to an IHOP, where, Cook said, “We believe in there he took a lady hostage and shot her, injuring her in a critical manner.

“And then he took off out of the IHOP and ran eastbound on Howard Street into the Dollar General lot where he was engaged by Evanston police officers and he was subsequently shot and killed,” Cook said during a news conference.

“Thanks to their quick response and heroic actions, Evanston Police officers shot and killed the gunman and brought the bloodshed to an end in a busy commercial area before anyone else could be hurt or killed,” Evanston Mayor Stephen Hagerty said in an emailed statement.

“While we are still learning more about the offender, his motive, and the totality of yesterday’s tragic events, one thing is clear: If not for the brave actions of Evanston and Chicago police, many more innocent lives would have been lost,” Hagerty said.

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