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

Justus Howell, a 17-year-old who was shot twice in the back by a police officer Saturday, was trying to steal a gun from a man who was trying to sell it, Zion Police said in a statement Monday evening.

The alleged seller, Tramond Peet, 18, of Lindenhurst, was in bond court Monday, facing two charges of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon. He was ordered held on $15,000 bail on Monday, according to the statement.

Peet was stopped on Saturday for a traffic violation by Lake County sheriff’s deputies, the statement said. During the stop, he allegedly told the deputies that he had met with Howell in the 2300 block of Gilead to sell him a gun, but Howell attempted to take it without paying.

RELATED: Autopsy confirms teen shot twice in back by Zion police officer

A fight ensued and the gun discharged into the ground. Peet let go of the handgun when he heard police coming and saw officers running after Howell, who still had the gun, according to the statement. Peet also heard the officers give Howell commands and heard the gunshots.

Police confirmed that the officer who shot Howell is a 32-year-old, 9-year police veteran. They declined to name him but said he had been placed on paid administrative leave.

At an invitation-only community meeting Monday afternoon at the Christian Assembly of God Church in Zion, attendees included Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim; Zion Police Chief Sam H. Dumyahn; members of the Lake County Major Crime Task Force; and representatives of the Lake County NAACP.

“Mike indicated to community members that the case is still an ongoing investigation, the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force continues to investigate and that more information will be released once the information is complete,” said Cynthia Vargas, a spokeswoman for Nerheim.

A source who attended the meeting said it was aimed at calming community leaders.

Clyde McLemore, a community activist who said he was asked to attend by Howell’s family, tried to go to the meeting but was told that he was not allowed in.

Earlier Monday, autopsy results released Monday showed that Justus Howell was shot twice in the back.

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 were pending, he said.

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.”

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.”