Aspiring Teen Journalist Gunned Down While Surprising Mom During Visit Home

Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images
The senseless murder of Arshell Dennis has left the Chicago community in disbelief.

The Chicago community is heartbroken over the tragic murder of a 19-year-old student who will never get to fulfill his dream of becoming a journalist.

The son of a Chicago Drug Enforcement Administration officer, Arshell "Trey" Dennis, was preparing to head back to New York City to begin his junior year as a journalism student at St. John's University when his life was cut short as he sat on the front porch of his Southside Chicago home on Saturday night, the Washington Post reports. 

Dennis had decided to fly home for the weekend to surprise his mother for her birthday and was outside chatting with a friend when gunshots rang out. Both Dennis and his friend were shot, but the young student sadly did not survive.

A video filmed in 2015 by a friend shows Dennis speaking optimistically about his plans for the future, his love for hip-hop music, his admiration for fellow St. John's alum and rapper J.Cole and his desire to help others with backgrounds similar to his own get through their hardships. 

"Music influences the way people think and I couldn't imagine a world without music. So, if I could do anything and be successful at it, I'd probably make music. I think it would take two lifetimes to change the world but, I do think that I'd be able to influence a lot of the ways people think and give them an outlook on the things that I've been through and the things that people where I come from been through and just help them get through what they're going through,” he said.

Dennis also spoke truthfully about what he feels are the biggest issues within the African-American community and how he thinks the issue of police brutality, in particular, can be alleviated. 

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"The two biggest issues are really one," he said. "And I don't mean this with any disrespect to the Black community, but it is, unfortunately, our culture. And this goes hand-in-hand with the second [issue], which is the police.  The way we talk and the way we dress and the way we carry ourselves as Black youth is normal to us and to them, they see hoodlums or criminals or drug dealers and, it's just a big issue. I don't think that we should change our culture, I think that we should keep our culture the same. It's a very beautiful culture in itself but, I think that the rest of society needs to accept the fact that this is who we are and if you can't accept that then, just leave us alone."

Dennis believed adequate police training that includes a course on stereotyping would improve the way officers interact with Black youth and also shared his personal experiences with being pulled over by police for no reason. 

"I don't know how police training goes for rookies but, they need to have a course on stereotyping. I get pulled over like three times a day, depending on the week or where I'm at. I remember, over Christmas break, I went a month without getting pulled over because, you know it's real cold where I'm from. But as soon as it warmed up, I got pulled over three times, twice within 5 minutes of each other, just driving down the street. I wasn't doing nothing, I didn't have no music on or nothing. Word for word, this one [police officer] said -- I asked him why he pulled me over -- and he was like, "cause you look like somebody I need to pull over." 


Chicago Superintendent Eddie Johnson described Dennis as "a good kid, making his parents proud and studying for a promising future." Johnson also dispelled speculation that Dennis was targeted because of his father's occupation, while a separate police official later spoke on the possibility of the teen being targeted as part of a gang initiation ritual that requires potential gang members to kill an innocent person in order to be accepted into the gang. 

The Dennis family was overwhelmed with grief in a statement issued to the Chicago Sun-Times following their son’s murder. 

"The loss of our son is stunning and painful,” the statement read. “Tragically, we were going to take him to the airport today at 3 p.m. to return to school. Now because of this senseless violence, we will be grieving and planning his funeral. Trey was smart, funny, and the light of our lives.”  

An investigation continues.

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