Off-duty Chicago police officer killed in Avalon Park always wanted to be a cop, father says

Aréanah Preston, 24, was “dedicated to making a difference,” one of her professors at Illinois State University said Saturday.

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Officer Areanah Preston was shot and killed outside her Avalon Park home on Saturday, May 6, 2023.

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A Chicago police officer described as “trying to make a change on this Earth” and who wanted to show young people that policing “can make a difference in the community” was shot to death early Saturday near her home in Avalon Park on the city’s South Side.

Aréanah Preston, 24, was getting home from work about 1:40 a.m. when she was shot in the 8100 block of South Blackstone Avenue, according to the Chicago police.

The shooting happened during an apparent stickup that officials believe might be related to another nearby robbery, according to law enforcement sources, who said Preston’s gun was taken.

ShotSpotter, the city’s gunshot-detection system, registered nine fired rounds in the area, according to police radio traffic around the time of the incident.

An Apple Watch called 911 and indicated there was a traffic crash in the block about 2 a.m., according to the conversations over police radio. A responding officer who arrived about 15 minutes later — but more than 30 minutes after the shooting — reported Preston had been shot.

“We got a person shot,” the officer said over the radio. “It’s an off-duty [police officer]. Get an ambulance here now.”

The officer put Preston in a police vehicle and rushed her to the University of Chicago Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead, according to the police.

No arrests have been reported.

Police officers gather Saturday in the 8100 block of South Blackstone Avenue after an off-duty Chicago police officer was shot to death while returning to her South Side home.

Police officers gather Saturday in the 8100 block of South Blackstone Avenue after an off-duty Chicago police officer was shot to death while returning to her South Side home.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

Preston worked for the police department for three years, most recently assigned to the Calumet District.

Her father, Allen Preston, lives in Los Angeles and said he had received little information as of Saturday afternoon.

“She was trying to make a change on this Earth,” he said. “It’s unforgivable, in my eyes.”

Preston described his daughter as a “beautiful soul” who “always saw the best in people” and had long wanted to be a police officer. He said her calling had seemed like destiny, recalling that he and his ex-wife had a police escort to the hospital before she was born.

He had concerns about the dangers of the job, even though she followed “half” her family into the profession.

“This was my baby, everything I did was for her,” he said. “I don’t know what to do right now. … I’ll be dealing with this for the rest of my life.”

Preston is also survived by her mother and younger twin sisters.

More than a dozen family members gathered outside Preston’s home after learning of the shooting. A few police officers parked nearby and joined a vigil.

Family members and mourners gather in the 8100 block of South Blackstone Avenue hours after an off-duty Chicago police officer was shot to death while returning to her South Side home Saturday.

Family members and mourners gather Saturday in the 8100 block of South Blackstone Avenue hours after an off-duty Chicago police officer was shot to death while returning to her South Side home.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

Preston’s aunt Sonia Rawsk said her niece was a “wonderful” person with a bright future and “a definite role model with a career path that just didn’t stop.”

Preston was pursuing a master of Jurisprudence from the Loyola University Chicago School of Law and would have graduated May 13, according to a university spokesperson.

“Our University community is shocked and saddened by her tragic passing,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “She will be remembered by her faculty and classmates for her kindness, intellect, and commitment to service. We wish to express our deepest condolences to the Preston family and to all those whose lives she touched.”

Preston previously earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and law enforcement administration from Illinois State University, where she met professor Charles Bell.

She was a “very engaged, very vocal student, very respectful of others’ opinion and just very passionate about making a difference and showing young people that policing is a profession that can make a difference in the community,” Bell said. “She was very aware of a lot of the problems, that in her opinion, had manifested in the Chicago community.”

He said the young officer was still working in patrol but “was looking forward to moving up in the ranks.”

“She was a reformer,” he said. “She saw a problem and she was dedicated to making a difference.”

After a class trip to Holocaust sites in Germany and Poland in 2019, Preston said in an article published on her school’s website that she was determined to enter the police academy to help build trust between underrepresented communities and law enforcement.

“I know a big thing for our trip was finding voices for those who didn’t have a voice,” Preston said. “When I got back, I wanted to be an officer. I felt like I could be a person to fight for justice.”

At a news conference Saturday outside the medical center where Preston was treated, a tearful Mayor Lori Lightfoot sent her condolences to the officer’s “shattered” family.

Interim Chicago police Supt. Eric Carter, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and police officials at a news conference Saturday after the fatal shooting of an off-duty police officer.

Interim Chicago police Supt. Eric Carter, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and police officials at a news conference Saturday after the fatal shooting of an off-duty police officer.

Chicago Police Department

“When I got the call this morning, I wasn’t just a mayor. I was a mom,” Lightfoot said. “I’m thinking about what the parents of this young officer are going to be feeling today.”

Interim police Supt. Eric Carter’s daughter attended high school with Preston at UIC College Prep, and his wife coached their cheerleading team. He asked for prayers for the officer, her family and “the men and women of the Chicago Police Department who sacrifice everything, including their lives.”

Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson called the shooting “a profound tragedy. My heart breaks for the family of the young officer who was murdered early this morning on her way home from work. I’m outraged and devastated by this horrific violence against a public servant, and I will do everything I can to support her family and the Chicago Police Department through this traumatic time. I pray that her killer is apprehended quickly so that justice may be served.”

Johnson said the overnight attack “underlines the fierce urgency of the public safety crisis in our city.”

The shooting happened a little more than two months after Officer Andrés Mauricio Vásquez Lasso was killed in the line of duty. He was shot near a Gage Park elementary school on March 1 as he pursued an armed suspect who had threatened his girlfriend. Steven Montano, 19, is charged with Lasso’s killing and is being held without bail at the Cook County Jail pending trial.

Other alleged cop killers have taken longer to apprehend.

Officer Michael Ray Bailey Sr. was killed in July 2010 during an attempted carjacking after ending his shift on a mayoral protection detail for then-Mayor Richard M. Daley. Anton Carter was arrested a year later, but he wasn’t tried until nearly a decade later, in 2019.

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