Chicago police officer, 24, killed just after her shift ends

·6 min read

CHICAGO — A young Chicago police officer who had recently earned her master’s degree and whose family called “happy” and “intelligent” was shot dead early Saturday shortly after leaving the station following her shift on the city’s South Side, Chicago police said.

Police responded to “shot spotter” calls about 1:45 a.m. in the 8100 block of South Blackstone Avenue in the Avalon Park neighborhood and found 24-year-old Areanah Preston with gunshot wounds, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office and police.

One of the first officers to get there rendered aid, but Preston was transported to UChicago Medicine where she died, police said.

No one was in custody in the fatal shooting, police said.

Preston, who had only been with the police department for three years, had just completed her shift and was assigned to the Calumet District station on the city’s Far South Side.

”She was intelligent, a happy person ... she was all of that and more,” Preston’s grandfather, whom she knew as “Pa Pa” and who was getting ready to travel to Chicago, told the Tribune. “I can’t speak about her without breaking up.”

Tense exchanges between an officer and 911 dispatchers erupted shortly after shooting.”495: emergency, emergency!” the officer says. “81st and Blackstone we got a person shot — it’s an off duty po! Get an ambulance here now!”

After a 10-1, an emergency call to all officers in the area to immediately help out, was given over the radio, the officer was apparently with the fallen officer.

“Squad, it’s not looking good — get an ambulance here now!” the officer said.

Preston, who lived in Avalon Park, had earned a master’s degree in child and family law from Loyola University Chicago, according to her LinkedIn and Facebook profiles. She graduated in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and law enforcement administration from Illinois State University, according to the profiles.

In a social media post, one of Preston’s friends remembered her as a “humble, dedicated, helpful, sophisticated soul.” Another remembered her as “the life of everything” and “as sweet as pie.”

During her undergraduate studies, Preston’s academic interests ranged from restorative justice and trauma in incarcerated populations to diversity in law enforcement and police brutality.

A former professor of Preston’s at ISU, criminal justice scientist Charles Bell, said he met the young woman as a student. She attended a panel that included formerly incarcerated individuals and was in a class Bell teaches on “Race, Ethnicity and Criminal Justice.”

“She understands the intimate details about what is happening in the community, some of the challenges that are impacting policing and mass incarceration,” he told the Tribune. “She was very vocal about that and sharing it with the class and deeply passionate about making a difference.”

The panel Bell led appeared to be particularly eye-opening for Preston, who was interviewed about it for an article in the ISU student newspaper The Vidette.

“I was able to learn firsthand the problems that many of our incarcerated population goes through outside of the standard textbook curriculum,” Preston was quoted as saying in the paper.

“If you’re interested in making a difference like Areanah was, you’re interested in learning where (crime) starts,” Bell said. “And she was really interested in making a difference in the community, going back to Chicago, boots on the ground, helping people.”

In 2019, Preston took a class that offered opportunities to engage in dialogue with German students about the criminal justice system in Germany and the United States, according to an ISU news article. The class delved into the availability and accessibility of resources for unresolved trauma in incarcerated women in both countries.

After a two-week class trip to Holocaust sites in Germany and Poland that same year, where Preston and her peers studied genocide through a criminology lens, she decided to enter the police academy — something she’d already been thinking about — with the goal of building 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 was quoted as saying back in 2021. “When I got back, I wanted to be an officer. I felt like I could be a person to fight for justice.”

Bell said it was “deeply heartbreaking” to hear the news about Preston’s death Saturday.

“She was a very bright student with the whole world ahead of her,” he said. “And it’s heartbreaking to see someone who’s so passionate and so dedicated, so young, who’s interested in reform, interested in creating a better world, lose her life at 24.”

In a news conference Saturday morning, interim Chicago police Superintendent Eric Carter asked the public “to keep the officer and her family in your prayers, as well as the men and women of the Chicago Police Department, who sacrifice everything — including their lives.”

Outgoing Mayor Lori Lightfoot was also on hand during the news conference.

“It’s unfortunate that we’re standing here again today to talk about another tragedy that has befallen one of our bravest citizens,” Lightfoot said. “I had an opportunity to speak with the family of this officer, who as you might imagine is completely shattered. ... No mother wants to wake up to the tragic news that their child is dead. And dead to something as awful and tragic as gunfire.”

She said she told the interim superintendent to spare no expense in order to find the person or people responsible and bring them to justice.

Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson released a statement late Saturday morning, calling the slaying a “profound tragedy.”

”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,” Johnson said.

“I pray that her killer is apprehended quickly so that justice may be served.”

He said that the fact a police officer was killed in the middle of the night emphasized the public safety crisis in the city.

“My top priority is building a better, stronger, safer Chicago where all our residents can live and work free from the threat of violence,” he said.

”Our hearts are broken once again,” said Tom Ahern, deputy director of police news affairs. “The Chicago Police Department and the city of Chicago tragically lost one of our own. Our officer was fatally shot while returning home from her tour of duty earlier this morning.”

The police department suffered a similar tragedy earlier this year when officer Andrés Vásquez Lasso was shot and killed in the line of duty while responding to a domestic-related call in Gage Park. In that case, Steven Montano, 18, of the 2500 block of South Lawndale, was charged with first-degree murder, weapons charges and interfering with a domestic violence report.