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Butler College Prep senior’s bright future cut short by a bullet during vigil

James Garrett | Butler College Prep Facebook page

The fatal shooting Saturday night of a young man with a bright future has left a hole as large as his personality in the lives of his family, teachers and loved ones.

James Garrett, an 18-year-old senior at Butler College Prep, was shot in the back as he tried to run to safety when gunfire erupted about 8 p.m. Saturday during a memorial vigil in the 13200 block of South Prairie Avenue, according to Chicago police and his family members.

Now a vigil is also being planned for him.

“James was just a people person. He got along with pretty much everyone,” his older sister, Latasha, said Sunday. “He was probably the most popular kid at his high school.”

Garrett was attending a vigil for a 25-year-old woman who died in a crash the day before, his sister said. He had known the woman from the neighborhood he grew up in and had gone to the gathering with several friends.

James Garrett | Photo provided by family

Police said an argument that broke out at the memorial ended when a male and female each pulled out guns and began shooting. No one was in custody Sunday evening as Area South detectives continued to investigate.

Garrett was taken to Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn in critical condition and was pronounced dead within an hour, police and the Cook County medical examiner’s office said.

Two others, a 48-year-old man and a 20-year-old woman, were also wounded in the shooting Saturday night, police said. The man was taken to Christ Medical Center. The woman suffered a gunshot wound to her arm and was treated at University of Chicago Medical Center. Both were expected to survive.

All those who knew James Garrett said he had a promising future. He had a 3.9 GPA, had already been accepted to at least one college and was planning to visit more schools this year. He loved to dance and play basketball, and he knew how to make family and friends laugh.

James Garrett | Photo provided by family

Butler Principal Christopher Goins described Garrett as an “amazing personality.”

Goins taught Garrett in a class designed to increase the tiny number teachers who are African-American men and said Garrett had planned to study education in college. He was the first student in his class to get an acceptance letter — from Talladega College, a historically black college in Alabama.

“He really wanted to be in a place where he felt that he was important,” Goins said.

His sister said he was also considering Central State University in Ohio and had been offered scholarships from several schools.

In an example of his ability to connect with others, Goins said a videographer who accompanied Garrett and other Butler students on a tour of historically black colleges and universities in August had captured a lot of footage of the young man.

Goins said the school plans to show some of that footage at a vigil planned for 8:30 a.m. Monday on the Butler campus at 821 E. 103rd St.

“We try to provide a safe place for our students to mourn,” he said. “Despite [students] having to see it all the time, it’s not normal, and we never want them to think that it’s normal.”

Since the school opened five years ago, the lives of three students, including Garrett’s, have been claimed by gun violence, Goins said.

Dyryl Burnett, Garrett’s adviser at Butler and a mentor to the young man, said getting “that call” is a teacher’s worst fear.

“It hurts like hell,” Burnett said with a heavy sigh. “Being a teacher in Chicago, this is definitely in the back of our minds, especially with our black boys. This isn’t one of those jobs where you just leave work at work.”

Garrett, Burnett said, was in some ways just a teenager like any other; irritating at times, full of dreams about his future and still learning to navigate the world around him. But, like the best kids, he listened and took the advice that was given to him to heart.

Hearing of another senseless killing and the deep feeling of loss that comes with it is emotionally exhausting, Burnett said: Too often unreported in stories about black teenagers shot in the city is the impact it has on the black men who are helping them become adults, he said.

“[Garrett] had a community around him,” Burnett said. “He had a lot of black men around him who were supporting him. You pour everything into them you wish someone had poured into you at their age. You have so much hope in them.”

But, Burnett said, even the pain of his death was worth the opportunity to have known him.

“I just feel very fortunate to be a person who got to have a relationship with him.”

Contributing: Adam Thorp, Alice Yin and David Struett