When 73-year-old Keith Cooper had his car key snatched away from his hand by two teenagers while he ran errands in Hyde Park, he repeatedly asked for it back.
He got hit instead, Cook County prosecutors said Friday. The Marine veteran ended up dying after he was accosted by Frank Harris, 18, and 17-year-old Dushawn Williams Wednesday afternoon in the 5300 block of South Kimbark Avenue.
The senior citizen survived wars, “but didn’t manage to survive his encounter” with Harris and Williams, Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy told Judge Charles Beach.
Harris, who was involved with the violence prevention youth group Good Kids Mad City in the recent past, allegedly was the the one who punched Cooper once in the head while trying to run off with the older man’s Hyundai SUV that was in the parking lot of the Kimbark Plaza shopping center.
When Harris and Williams were not able to get inside the vehicle, they allegedly ran off.
Cooper, meanwhile, collapsed two minutes later.
An off-duty paramedic started chest compressions on Cooper before Chicago police and firefighters arrived and took Cooper to the University of Chicago Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
The Cook County medical examiner’s office has not yet ruled on the cause and manner of Cooper’s death.
Harris and Williams were arrested about a half-mile away after they were spotted changing out of their clothing in a synagogue parking lot, Murphy said.
While in custody, Harris allegedly admitted to taking part in the carjacking attempt, but denied hitting Cooper. Surveillance cameras, however, captured the attack and two people in the shopping center’s parking lot identified Harris as the man who struck Cooper, Murphy said.
Beach told Harris Friday that it was “painful” to see a young man with “his whole life in front of him” in his courtroom.
But the judge also noted that Harris was on probation for another carjacking when he attacked Cooper. Harris, who was a juvenile during the carjacking several months before, used a replica handgun in that incident, Murphy told Beach.
“I do believe you are a threat to the community,” Beach told Harris before ordering him held without bail for first-degree murder.
Harris is expected back in court Aug. 4. Williams, who also has been charged with murder as an adult, is expected to appear at a bond hearing Saturday.
Harris, who was to be a high school senior in the fall, had been enrolled in a Chicago Public Schools summer program and had a paid position with Good Kids Mad City, an assistant public defender said.
Harris had received a stipend from the organization when he helped to distribute food and care packages to the community during the early months of the pandemic last year, according to Kofi Ademola, an adult advisor for Good Kids Mad City.
Before that, Harris had also been involved in helping run a basketball program for youth, Ademola, 40, said Friday.
Unfortunately, members of the organization had not seen Harris in about a year, Ademola said.
“It’s so disheartening,” Ademola said. “We lost Mr. Cooper, who should still be here to be with his family, and we lost another young person to the criminal legal system.
“Until we address the real root causes of violence ... this isn’t going to end.”
At Kimbark Plaza Friday night, members of Good Kids Mad City joined over 100 people in prayer to honor Cooper and the impact his life had. People held candles as West African drums played.
Several veterans shared stories of Cooper.
“We are one blood, one family,” a veteran yelled. “This should’ve never have happened to a person who served.”
“Blood does not define brother,” Another veteran shouted.
Keinika Carlton, Cooper’s daughter, said she had been overwhelmed with the support she’s received but she remained disheartened that the alleged offenders were just teenagers. She hopes the two will learn “this is not the way of life.”
“We’ve all been affected by Chicago violence in some way, right? And people will say ‘Well, that’s Chicago,’” Carlton said.
Looking out into the crowd, she added: “No, I’m sorry, this is Chicago. This right here is Chicago. We are not going to take the actions of one or two individuals and call that Chicago,” Carlton said. “I’m sorry I can’t do that because that’s not what my daddy taught me.”
Carlton said a memorial for her father is planned for July 23 at 2 p.m. at Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave.