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A dance instructor, father, and pillar of the South Side Chicago hip hop community was shot dead a block away from his studio.
Verndell Smith, 32, was fatally shot on the morning of May 19 as he was walking near his dance studio in Park Manor, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. A silver SUV pulled into the parking lot of a nearby Dunkin Donuts before the driver opened fire on Smith, who was just leaving the establishment, WFLD in Chicago reports.
He was struck in multiple areas of his body: his leg, arm, forehead and torso, according to the Sun-Times. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
Smith owned Silent Threat Dance Studio, where he gave children a safe space to dance for years.
“He’s definitely a dance legend and he should never be forgotten,” Devoureaux Wolf, who has a dance platform in the city told the Sun-Times. “He opened up a way to let these boys and girls be comfortable. Some of them needed a way to express themselves and Verndell would get that out of them.”
The dance company performed in national competitions, including the Apollo Theater in New York.
“My brother was a giver,” his sister LaToya Smith told the outlet, adding that he was born partially deaf and found his voice through music.
He considered his studio a safe space for children. His sister noted that he helped two young boys after he discovered that they were carrying guns to both his studio and their school.
Smith’s motto was always, “Stop shooting and start dancing,” according to the Sun-Times. It was the purpose behind the Ultimate Threat Dance Organization.
“He wanted to give other children an outlet to forget their struggles in life,” his sister said. “People came in the door not knowing how to dance. And they left, as we’d say, ‘the coldest in Chicago.’”
A possible motive for the shooting is unclear. No suspects or persons of interest have been named.
On Saturday, dance team members and other loved ones marched from the dance studio to the spot where Smith was killed for a balloon release. Then, people danced in his honor.
Smith was the father of a 10-year-old boy.
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