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Man Charged With Murder In Killing Of UChicago Graduate In Hyde Park

Prosecutors allege Alton Spann, 18, shot Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng, 24, and later pawned his laptop and iPhone for $100.

An 18-year-old man was charged with robbing and murdering Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng (right), 24, in the 900 block of East 54th Place (left) Tuesday afternoon.
Google Maps/ University of Chicago

CHICAGO — An 18-year-old man has been charged in the killing of University of Chicago graduate Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng in Hyde Park.

Alton Spann, 18, was charged with murder and robbery, police said. Zheng, a 24-year-old native of of China’s Sichuan province, was shot and killed Tuesday afternoon during a robbery in the 900 block of East 54th Place.

Judge Barbara Dawkin ordered Spann held without bail Saturday, according to the Sun-Times.

In bond court, prosecutors said Zheng was standing on a sidewalk when Spann walked up to him with a gun and ordered Zheng to hand over his belongings, the Sun-Times reported.

After a struggle, Zheng tried to run, and Spann fired one shot at Zheng, hitting him in his chest, prosecutors said.

Spann returned to a stolen black Ford Mustang after the shooting and drove off. He later pawned a laptop and iPhone he took from Zheng for $100, prosecutors and Chicago police said, according to the Sun-Times.

Zheng’s slaying happened on the same day two other violent incidents happened in Hyde Park. First, a 31-year-old man was stabbed to death in an incident of domestic violence in the 5300 block of Cottage Grove Avenue. Later, a few dozen shots were fired on 53rd Street at Harper Avenue during lunch hour. 

RELATED: Congressional Candidate Jahmal Cole Shot At As Violent Day Shakes Hyde Park; 2 Dead In Other Incidents

Within hours of Zheng’s killing, UChicago officials announced the university’s private police force would “immediately” increase its off-campus presence. Zheng recently completed his master’s degree at the university.

There is no evidence to suggest Zheng’s killing was racially or ethnically motivated — a concern raised by some in the international community, said Eric Heath, UChicago’s vice president of safety and security.

The Chinese American Association of Greater Chicago organized a GoFundMe to pay for Zheng’s family’s travel and legal expenses. It had raised more than $309,000 as of Thursday morning.

RELATED: More Police, Surveillance Cameras Coming To Hyde Park After South Side’s ‘Downtown’ Shot Up, 2 Killed In Separate Incidents

Zheng is the third University of Chicago student or recent graduate to be killed this year. In January, 30-year-old UChicago doctoral student Yiran Fan was killed in Kenwood during a citywide shooting spree. Max Lewis, a 20-year-old junior, was shot and killed on a Green Line train at the 51st Street stop in July.

The Mayor’s Office said Mayor Lori Lightfoot is “extremely proud of the dogged and phenomenal work of the Chicago Police Department’s Bureau of Detectives” in the case.

“Individuals who commit senseless and cowardly acts of violence, and who recklessly cut short the lives of residents, must be held accountable, and it is the mayor’s hope that this announcement can serve as the first step on the long road toward healing and justice for Mr. Zheng’s family and loved ones, as well as the University of Chicago Community,” the mayor’s team said in a statement.

In a statement announcing a man was charged in the case, university Provost Ka Yee C. Lee and Heath said their concern continues for the pain that Zheng’s family and friends are experiencing.

“More information about a memorial service for Dennis Zheng will be shared next week. We must make every effort to support each other in this time of grief,” the statement read.

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