BRONZEVILLE — Aaron Rushing would've turned 16 Wednesday.
Instead, his friends, family and teachers gathered at a memorial for the high school sophomore, who was gunned down near his Bronzeville home Sunday afternoon.
Aaron had spent the morning with his grandmother and brother, according to family. The trio went to church and then shoe shopping, where grandma Victoria Harris bought Aaron a pair of birthday shoes.
When they got home, Aaron helped his grandmother make Sunday dinner before heading out with his brother and some friends.
"His last few moments with me were lovely," Victoria Harris said. "He sat on my lap and said 'I love you grandma.'I said, 'You still think you're my baby, don't you?' He said, 'Yeah, kind of.'"
He was "just joking around. His thing to do was to pinch my cheek because grandmas love to pinch their grandkids' cheeks. He'd say, 'Well, I'm doing it to you instead.'"
About 40 minutes after Aaron left their home in the 1100 block of East 47th Street, Victoria Harris got the call he'd been shot.
Aaron was hit in his abdomen in the 4600 block of South Cottage Grove Avenue about 3 p.m., officials said. According to a witness, a man walked up to Aaron and asked him a question. When Aaron said "no," the man shot him.
The teen was pronounced dead at Comer Children's Hospital at 6:11 p.m. Sunday.
Friends and teachers said Aaron was a gifted guitarist who abruptly transferred out of the Chicago High School for the Arts his sophomore year and got caught up in a bad crowd.
Police said the homicide was probably drugs-related, but offered few details as they continued their investigation.
"There's so many why's or how's," said Marley Dzis, who taught Aaron music theory his freshman year. "When you picture your model student, that was Aaron. He was just a really gentle soul.
"He got an A or A-plus on every single test. Every single test," Dzis said, adding that seniors would joke about having practice more to keep up with Aaron, then a freshman guitar major.
Aaron's family said he picked up guitar about five years ago when he asked for an instrument for Christmas.
"I just thought it was a passing thing, so I think I bought him, like, a $49.99 guitar," Victoria Harris said. "And he ended up just practicing night and day. He'd practice all day long."
Mother Jennifer Harris, 44, said Aaron taught himself using YouTube videos. He was always mathematically gifted, she said, and could read music easily.
Once Aaron transferred to Kenwood Academy High School his sophomore year, he played in the school's jazz band, his mom said. The teen never gave a clear reason for the transfer, but his mom speculates he wanted to be closer to his brother, Alex, who attended the school.
"They were Irish twins, only 10 months apart," Jennifer Harris said. "All their lives, it was always those two together. They did everything together."
Alex, 16, hasn't been able to come home since the shooting, relatives said. He's been staying at his oldest brother's place.
"He can't walk in the door without falling apart," Jennifer Harris said.
"These kids need to realize that they are killing not just one person," said cousin Iasha Harris, 27.
"They're killing mothers, fathers, grandmothers, sisters, brothers. They're killing everybody. As a result of this, we have all died. We will never be the same. I don't think they realize how final it is. And how devastating it is."
"I hope it was worth it," Aaron's mother said. "For that one act — reaching and pulling a gun and pulling a trigger. Over what? A bag of weed? Or something he said? He [Aaron] was only 15, and my son [Alex] will never be the same."
Dzis said she wondered whether things would've turned out differently if Aaron lived in the suburbs.
"If Aaron was perhaps in a different neighborhood, circumstance, he would've been on track — AP classes, honors, college, musical career."
The teen's classmates at the Chicago High School for the Arts, 521 E. 35th St., organized Wednesday's memorial outside the school. Friends wrote notes in chalk and remembered their soft-spoken pal.
Aaron Harris, 16, played in a band with Aaron Rushing. The pair even submitted a tape to "America's Got Talent," but never heard back.
"He was really smart," Aaron Harris said. "He was extremely, extremely smart, and he was never in trouble. And he was just a good, open-minded, open-hearted kid and I wish he could still be here."
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