ROGERS PARK — When Alante Vallejo, 18, graduated on June 1 from Evanston Township High School, it was "the happiest day of my life," said his grandmother, Pauletta Brown.
Five days later, when he was gunned down on Howard Street, it was the worst day of her life, she said.
Family, friends and anti-violence activists met Wednesday in a Howard Street parking lot to mourn Vallejo and speak out against Chicago's street violence.
"My grandson, he was good. He was always smiling," said Brown, struggling through bouts of tears as she described Vallejo's life in front of the gathered crowd. "He brought a lot of joy to me and my daughters. He loved to play football."
The Evanston teen's life was cut short when he was shot in the back about 1:45 p.m. June 6 in the 1900 block of North Howard Street. Less than an hour later, he was pronounced dead at Evanston's St. Francis Hospital.
Police said he and another victim, who survived a gunshot wound to the foot, were documented gang members.
Anthony Doss, a CeaseFire Rogers Park supervisor who organized the Monday gathering, said his team had worked with Vallejo and his group of friends.
Doss said Vallejo and another gang member had gotten into an argument shortly before the shooting. Now, the CeaseFire team is working to stop retaliatory shootings.
"Sometimes a shooting spurs people to move in the right direction because they don't want to be victims of the same gun violence of their friends," he said. But other times, the reaction is "anger," he said.
Vallejo's mother, Kenisha Brown, 35, also attended the gathering, but could only muster a few words.
"I feel like I'm dreaming," she said. "I wish this was a dream. I loved Alante so much."
Supporters there also spoke about efforts to stop gun violence and encouraged people to come together.
"Our kids are dying too young," said an Evanston woman. "There is no reason why we should be burying our children."
Pastor Robert Rand, of New Life Covenant Church, said too much "innocent blood has spilled" on Chicago streets.
"I've seen a lot of young people die in the black and Hispanic communities," he said. "It just breaks my heart when I see a young man fall."
At the end of the gathering, 18 red balloons, one for each year of Vallejo's life, were passed around to family and close friends.
After they released them together, and they drifted upward through the overcast sky, the clouds parted and the June sun shone through.
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