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Autopsy confirms Zion teen shot twice in back by police

A Lake County teen killed Saturday by a Zion police officer was shot in the back — twice — according to autopsy results released Monday.

Lake County Coroner Thomas Rudd said Justus Howell suffered two wounds to his torso. One was what he called a “devastating” injury to his spleen, liver and heart; the other shot struck the back of his right shoulder, Rudd said.

Standard toxicology results are pending, he said.

RELATED: Teen killed in Zion was trying to buy gun before cop shot him: police

Sam Cunningham, vice president of the Lake County NAACP chapter and a Waukegan alderman, said the chapter has been helping Justus’ family to make sure they understand their rights.

Alice Howell, Justus Howell’s grandmother, is the secretary of the chapter, Cunningham said.

While the chapter also plans help with faith-based needs, the most important and immediate need they plan to assist with is getting the family legal help.

“They need an attorney to speak to investigators for them,” Cunningham said. “And they need legal advice to guide them through this process.”

Finally, Cunningham said that if financial assistance is needed by the family for final arrangements, the chapter plans to set up a place for donations to be given within the next 24 hours.

While he knows that many people in the community are angry about the fact that a young man was killed by a police officer, he is asking for calm and patience until the investigation is complete.

“Right now, people who are upset, you have a right to be upset and history is on our side,” Cunningham said. “But now we have to focus on the investigation. Emotion should be channeled into making sure that justice prevails.”

On Sunday, dozens of family and friends of Justus had gathered at the scene of Saturday’s shooting.

Some said he was an aspiring rapper, while his mother, LaToya Howell, said Justus also wanted to go to medical school to be a surgeon.

“Justus was a young man murdered by Zion police,” she said. “As he was fleeing from police, they killed my son. He couldn’t have been a threat if he was running.”

Family members and friends gather for a vigil  Sunday at the scene where Justus Howell, 17, was fatally shot by police Saturday in Zion. | Photo by Ruth Fuller

Family members and friends gather for a vigil Sunday at the scene where Justus Howell, 17, was fatally shot by police Saturday in Zion. | Photo by Ruth Fuller

According to a statement from Zion Police, someone called police about 1:55 p.m. Saturday, reporting an argument or fight in the 2300 block of Gilead Avenue. The caller also reported hearing a gunshot.

When officers arrived at the scene, a male ran and the officers chased him, police said. A Zion police officer shot the boy near 24th and Galilee, police said.

Family members identified the boy as Justus Howell, of Waukegan.

After officers administered medical aid at the scene, Howell was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police said. The officer was not injured, but was taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure.

A handgun was recovered at the scene, police said.

The Lake County Major Crime Task Force and the Lake County state’s attorney’s office are investigating.

Two witnesses said Howell was not armed at the time of the shooting.

Michael Dizzone and his wife live in a home directly across the street from where Howell was shot. Dizzone said his wife was looking out of her bedroom window when she saw and heard the officer shoot Howell twice.

“She saw him fall to the ground,” Dizzone said. He said his wife told police what she saw and that she did not see a gun on or around Howell. “She was really upset.”

Bobbie Vaughn, who lives nearby, said she heard two shots and began running toward the scene, following a police officer. When she arrived, she saw Howell on the ground.

“I heard the officer tell the other officer, ‘I shot him,’ ” she said. “They were shaking him, but he didn’t move. He was on his stomach, so they turned him over and the police officer I was with gave him CPR.”

Vaughn said that she remained on the scene for quite some time and did not see police uncover a weapon.

“I didn’t see a gun, no knife, nothing,” she said.

LaToya Howell said her son would have celebrated his golden birthday on June 18, when they had plans for a big party. The party guests were planning to wear white and gold.

“He was on the path to becoming a man,” she said. “He loved to rap and went by the name ‘Lil’ Meachi.”

Howell’s great aunt, LaDonnia Gilmore, of North Chicago, said she believed that an evil act was committed.

“Justus was a baby in the eyes of many,” she said. “There are more babies dying than seniors. They don’t even have a chance to carry out their careers. We want to make a statement that the police brutality must decrease.”

Tyrece Branch, 17, whose father is engaged to Howell’s mother, ran to the scene Saturday as soon as he heard that Justus, whom he considered his brother, was shot.

“I got a call that Meachi is on the floor and I was like, ‘It can’t be him,’ ” Branch said.

“I got real emotional, real angry,” he said. “He’s been in my life since I was 5 and we were real close.”

The vigil was peaceful as the participants chanted, “Justice for Justus.” Many sported T-shirts with Howell’s picture and the same sentiment. Others just hugged and cried.

While most of the group was made up of family members and friends, some came just because they were angry about what happened to a member of their community.

“You can’t keep killing our black children and not tell us why,” said Vanessa Gibbs, of Zion. “When is this going to stop? I’ve heard too many of these stories and I’m tired.”