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Teen fatally shot U of C grad in Hyde Park robbery, then sold electronics for $100: police

Alton Spann has been charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery and two counts of unlawful use of a weapon.

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown announces murder charges against Alton Spann, 18, in relation to the homicide of University of Chicago graduate Shaoxiong Zheng, at Chicago Police Headquarters, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021.
Chicago Police Supt. David Brown announces murder charges against Alton Spann, 18, in relation to the homicide of University of Chicago graduate Shaoxiong Zheng, at Chicago Police Headquarters, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

An 18-year-old man has been charged with fatally shooting University of Chicago graduate Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng during a robbery near the Hyde Park campus.

Alton Spann faces charges of first-degree murder, armed robbery and two counts of unlawful use of a weapon, Chicago police announced Friday night.

Deputy Chief of Detectives Rahman Muhammad said Zheng was walking home from class Tuesday when Spann walked up to him in the 900 block of East 54th Place and “announced the robbery.”

Spann allegedly shot Zheng once in the torso and ran off with several of Zheng’s belongings.

Witnesses initially told officers Zheng struggled with the robber and a shot went off. Zheng was taken to the nearby University of Chicago Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng
Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng
University of Chicago

Muhammad said surveillance videos and license plate readers gave detectives a clear track of Spann’s movements.

Moments after the shooting, Spann was caught on camera jumping into an idling Ford Mustang that took off west on 54th Place, Muhammad said. Police were able to track nearly every movement of the car, which was reported stolen from Markham earlier this month.

Then, Spann allegedly drove to a cellphone store, where he sold some of Zheng’s electronic devices for $100, police said. Those belongings were recovered.

“Let that sink in,” police Supt. David Brown said. “A hundred dollars for Mr. Zheng and his family’s grief. It just shows the brazenness and really highlights what must be the consequences to these violent offenders.”

Spann was arrested Wednesday in front of the Marshall Field Garden Apartments in the 1400 block of North Sedgwick. The keys for the Mustang were found in his pockets, Muhammad said, along with two firearms.

One of those guns was tested “and confirmed to be 100% the firearm that was used in the shooting of Mr. Zheng,” Muhammad said.

Police said they’re still investigating whether anyone else was involved in the robbery.

“The victim did nothing at all to deserve being shot or killed — at all,” Brown said. “Whether he struggled or was startled or said something back, he did nothing to provoke this heinous crime.”

A memorial for University of Chicago graduate Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng is set up at the 5400 block of S. Ellis Ave. in the Hyde Park Neighborhood, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021.
A memorial for University of Chicago graduate Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng is set up at the 5400 block of S. Ellis Ave. in the Hyde Park Neighborhood, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Zheng graduated from the University of Hong Kong in 2019 and got his master’s degree in statistics at the University of Chicago this past summer.

“He was motivated, independent, and intellectually curious,” said Mei Wang, director of the statistics master’s program. “He aspired to be a data scientist who could solve important problems facing our society, and who could help people to help more people.”

The Chinese American Association at Greater Chicago started an online fundraiser for Zheng’s family, which had raised more than $47,000 as of Friday night.

Spann was scheduled to appear in bond court Saturday.

Contributing: David Struett