Vincent Perez’s murdered fiancé haunts him wherever he goes.
“It feels like he’s right behind me,” Perez said. “It feels like I’ll see him at some point, and it kills me.”
Perez’s fiance, Shane Colombo, a 25-year-old cancer survivor and promising scholar, was shot to death in Chicago on Sept. 2 — less than four hours after he arrived in the city, as previously reported by Oxygen.com.
“A month has gone by and it feels like yesterday,” Perez added. “I have no concept of time. How do you go forward without taking a step back? Without leaving parts of you?”
Colombo’s killing remains unsolved, and Perez says, Chicago police have stopped actively investigating the case.
“They closed the case because it's Chicago,” he said. “Because it’s Chicago, this is normal.”
But the Chicago Police Department disputed that.
"This case is still an on-going investigation. Detectives are still actively working on the case," Chicago Police spokesperson officer Laura Amezaga said in a statement to Oxygen.com.
Seven other people were killed across Chicago over Labor Day weekend, according to a database of homicides compiled by the Chicago Tribune. Another 28 were wounded, according to the Chicago Police Department, including two girls, ages 11 and 17.
Colombo’s killers will probably never be caught: Police solved only 17% of Chicago’s murders in 2017, according to the Chicago Sun Times. Nationally, the murder clearance rate fell to 59% in 2016, the lowest figure since the FBI began tracking it, according to USA Today.
Chicago police have have released surveillance video of people that may have been involved in the killing of Shane Colombo, and are asking the public’s help identifying the men, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Colombo moved to Chicago to pursue a Ph.D in clinical psychology at Northwestern University. He had been walking through his new neighborhood, Rogers Park, taking photographs with his smartphone and texting them to Perez when he was caught in the crossfire of a gunfight just after 8 p.m.
When Colombo suddenly stopped texting and went silent, Perez — who was in San Francisco at the time — felt something was wrong, so he checked Colombo’s location with his phone.
“It showed he was in the hospital,” Perez recalled. “I called the hospital and they said he’d just passed. I didn't get to say goodbye."
The couple met at San Francisco State University in 2012 and started dating. After graduation, Perez went to work for a local technology firm, while Colombo moved to New York to attend Columbia University through the Bridge to the Ph.D Program for underrepresented students.
The couple maintained a long-distance relationship, and Perez frequently visited from San Francisco.
“We did a lot of exploring,” Perez said. “He would shepherd me across his city. We went to lots of restaurants, ate a lot of food. We walked the highline, and enjoyed the flowers.”
In December 2017, Perez proposed to Colombo, who said yes. After convincing his employer to let him work remotely, Perez said he purchased a condominium in Chicago near Northwestern’s campus for the two of them to live in while Colombo went to school.
“Everything's been so derailed,” Perez said. “All my life plans were around him. What the f--k do I do now?”
Perez returned to New York City on Saturday, to attend a Monday evening memorial service for Colombo at Columbia. Before the service began, Perez sat down with Oxygen.com to discuss his deceased partner and share a stark portrait of grief.
“Because of this I’m not afraid to die,” he began.
A large photograph of Colombo was displayed on the dim, wood-paneled chapel’s stage. As Perez spoke, ghostly images of Colombo materialized and dissolved on a large screen hanging from the ceiling.
Though Perez had prepared the slideshow, he said he could not bear to view it.
“I can’t watch it. I can only see individual photos,” he said.
Some days, Perez confided, memories of his murdered lover throb like a lost limb, and he consoles himself by smelling his clothes. It’s the sole consolation, Perez admitted, he allows himself to feel.
“Even though I’m surrounded by people I feel like I’m alone. You can’t really do anything for me,” he said. “I don’t get to mourn. I get to absorb everyone else’s grief. They expect me to be strong.”
Perez said he has lived alone in the weeks since the murder, in the Chicago apartment he and Colombo had planned to live in. He hasn’t decided whether to stay, but thought he should at least try to live there since that’s what he and his fiancé had planned.
Still, it’s hard for him to walk by the scene where Colombo was gunned down, which is on the way to the train station closest to him, ensuring he walks by it frequently. It’s marked by a modest makeshift memorial, and over the last month Perez has often refreshed the flowers that adorn it.
During the service, Colombo’s friends, fellow students and family offered glowing remembrances, and Perez, tissue in hand, alternately laughed, cried and kissed the silver ring that now hangs from a chain around his neck — the ring he had given Colombo when he said yes to marrying Perez, the same ring Chicago police returned to him covered in dried blood after the murder.
Among those that shared memories of Colombo at Monday evening’s memorial was Chris Medina-Kirchner, a former criminal-turned-scholar who mentored Colombo in the college’s Bridge to the Ph.D program.
Medina-Kirchner said the two bonded over what they saw as a similar experience: his “coming out” as an ex-offender, and Colombo’s “coming out” as a gay man.
“We felt comfort with each other right away, and we stayed close from that point forward,” Medina-Kirchner said, before concluding with a call to live fully present in the moment, with care and concern for one’s comrades.
“Love people. Embrace them. And just hug people hard, because you never know if it’s gonna be the last time.”
Then Perez slipped out a side door and was enveloped by the humid embrace of a foggy, warm New York night.
[Photo: JB Nicholas]