Nearly 100 friends and neighbors of two men killed during an apparent robbery last weekend in Chinatown packed into the gallery of a courtroom Tuesday where the accused killer appeared for his initial hearing.
Alvin Thomas, 20, of South Shore, faces two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting early Sunday in the 2000 block of South Wells Street. Thomas, dressed in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, stood quietly during the hearing with his hands behind his back and did not show any emotion.
Thomas was on probation for two other robbery convictions at the time of the shooting, prosecutors said.
Judge Arther Wesley Willis ordered Thomas held on a violation of his probation in one of those cases, and denied Thomas bail on the latest charges.
After the hearing, friends and neighbors of Huayi Bian, 36, and Weizhong Xiong, 38, said they were devastated by the senseless shootings. Xiong’s wife, 44, was too distraught to attend the hearing, they said.
The two men were “really kindhearted, hardworking people,” friend Terry Wilson said. “And for this to happen, it’s just wrong. There was no reason for it.”
He added: “We’ve all been impacted. We’ve all cried and we’re all angry.”
Xiong and his wife had gone out to dinner with Bian, who they were staying with, and had just parked in the lot of an apartment complex around 2:10 a.m. Sunday when they were confronted by Thomas, prosecutors said in court.
Thomas approached the car and shot Xiong multiple times as he was getting out of the passenger seat, prosecutors said. His wife heard the shots immediately after getting out of the driver’s seat and ducked down before crawling under a nearby vehicle, where she saw her husband’s body next to their car not moving, prosecutors said.
Thomas then began to struggle with Bian and Xiong’s wife heard multiple gunshots as Thomas fired again, killing Bian, prosecutors said.
Chicago police said earlier that Thomas had demanded property from the two men before the shooting, but prosecutors didn’t mention the robbery in court.
Another witness saw Thomas running from the parking lot, prosecutors said.
Thomas was arrested about 10 minutes later after officers followed a trail of bloody footprints and encountered Thomas in Chinatown Square in the 2100 block of South Archer Avenue, prosecutors said.
A 9-mm handgun was recovered that matched shell casings at the scene of the shooting, as well as Thomas’s bloody shoes, prosecutors said.
About $10,000 was found on Bian’s body, officials said.
Wilson said Bian had the money to purchase a Lincoln Navigator, which he planned to use for his newly earned livery license. He had previously driven for Uber to save up.
“There’s no reason for these guys to be shot. No reason at all,” said Wilson, who complained about the poor security in the area. “ ... There was no purpose for any of us to be hurt.”
The two men killed hadn’t been back home to see their families in China for eight or nine years, which was about how long they had been in the country, Wilson said. He said their families depended on the money the men sent back home.
A spokesman for the Chinese Consulate in Chicago said the two men were from the Liaoning Province in China.
An assistant public defender for Thomas said he lives with his wife and 2-year-old son while working for UPS and taking online GED courses. He was also involved in a mentoring program at his church.
Following the hearing, Thomas’ mother, Sherie Kellum, wept as she described her son as “a good guy” who goes to church every Sunday and takes care of his family.
“This is not him,” Kellum said.
“Don’t put my baby out as the bad guy, something just went wrong,” she added, saying Thomas was “at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Prosecutors painted a different picture of Thomas and provided details of the two robberies he was on probation for at the time of the shooting. Both happened shortly after each other on Aug. 8, 2018.
In one, Thomas and two others approached a person in the 900 block of West Belmont and asked for a cigarette, then began to beat the victim and stole money and cellphone. In the other, Thomas approached a person sitting on the sidewalk in the 3200 block of North Halsted and began going through the person’s pockets and knocked them to the ground, stealing an Apple Watch, cellphone and cash, prosecutors said. In July, Thomas pleaded guilty to both cases and was sentenced to two years probation.
Thomas also has findings of delinquency in three juvenile cases for aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, aggravated battery and burglary, prosecutors said.
Thomas’ uncle, D.J. Kellum, said that was all behind Thomas since he had gotten a job and started going to church.
“He’s gotten into trouble, but he had changed on his own and he had gotten into church,” D.J. Kellum said.
Thomas’ next court date was set for Feb. 24.