ROGERS PARK — Mutahir Rauf was a muscular Brooklyn transplant who knew street violence well from his time in New York and didn't fear it - but that fearless attitude may have lead to his murder Friday night, friends said.
The 23-year-old pre-med student at Loyola University was fatally shot during a robbery Friday night a few blocks from campus, police said. Thinking a weapon pointed at him was fake, he tried to grab it, Ald. Joe Moore (49th) said. The weapon fired, fatally striking Rauf in the chest.
"I don't think he was ever [robbed], but he had stories of friends. He said in Brooklyn they always used fake guns," Rauf's friend Jay Ramadurai said.
Ramadurai met Rauf last year in the university's weight room, where he spent much of his time. His first impression of Rauf was that he could be a body builder, he said.
"He always had a smile on his face. He's not one of those big meatheads you'd be afraid to approach," Ramadurai said. "He treated his body like a temple. You couldn't shove a fry down that guy's throat."
The two quickly became good friends despite Rauf's shy demeanor. He helped Ramadurai as he struggled with science courses. Soon Rauf became more family than friend, he said.
"He was like another big brother to me. He's always been a supporter of me. It was a lot more than just in the classroom," he said.
"I think there was a cultural connection. I'm Indian and he's Pakistani. We were both focused on our studies," Ramadurai said.
Ramadurai, like other Loyola students didn't pay much attention to the alert the school put out Friday night after the shooting. But he did text Rauf at another friend's urging after she hadn't heard from him.
"I didn't believe [the alert]. You hear about this stuff around here a decent amount of the time. You think 'oh, it's just another one,' then you hear it it's a Loyola student and you get anxious," he said.
He never got a text back. Instead, he awoke to the terrifying news of his friend's death.
"I guess I just froze. I couldn't believe it... someone like him... in those circumstances," Ramadurai said pausing between the phrases.
"He doesn't carry much on him. He even wore tank tops in the cold like this. He lived very simple. No fancy shoes or anything like that," Ramadurai said.
Police said Rauf, of the 1400 block of West Pratt Boulevard, and his brother were walking about 7:50 p.m. in the 1200 block of West Albion Avenue when two others approached, pulled a gun and demanded their belongings.
Then there was a "struggle for the weapon," before Rauf was shot, said Officer Thomas Sweeney, a police spokesman.
No one is in custody.
Police described the suspects as a black man, 18 to 20 years old wearing a black mask and hooded sweatshirt, and a black or Hispanic man, 18 to 20 years old, wearing a black knit cap and a black hooded sweatshirt.
The 23-year-old was shot in the chest and head and was pronounced dead at the scene at 8:08 p.m., authorities said. An autopsy determined Rauf died of a gunshot wound to the chest, the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office said.
Police secured the scene Friday night at the intersection of Albion and Lakewood avenues just west of the "L" tracks, directing passersby to surrounding streets. A body was covered with a white sheet.
A woman named Abby, who declined to give her last name, said she heard what she thought was fireworks or a car backfiring. She was disturbed when she realized it was a shooting, she said.
"My stomach sank. I was kind of speechless. I didn't really know what to think," she said describing seeing the scene in the alley behind her home as police set up, and a distraught man, believed to be Rauf's brother paced back and forth.
The Florida native, who has lived in Rogers Park for about two years, is just trying to put into perspective, she said.
"This isn't new. If anything it just makes me want to have social justice in Chicago. He was a young guy, that's what makes it worse. It was just an armed robbery that could've been anyone in the neighborhood," she said.
Around campus, students said they were being extra cautious after the incident.
"It kind of worries me because I work in the area. And they haven't caught the guy or know his whereabouts," said Molly Ladewig, an 18-year-old freshman at Loyola.
Nick Alamazan, 18, had heard about stalking incidents or robberies in the area but said this was a wake-up call for students.
"This is a whole new level," he said. "I was hoping it wasn't a student so when I got the news it hit home. It's a reminder it can happen to any student. I'm definitely going to be more cautious whenever I go out and I'm not going out late anymore."
Loyola University officials called off a Sunday winter festival set to be held near campus after Rauf's death.
The Polar Palooza went as planned Saturday to "offer the community a gathering spot for solidarity and hope," a university statement said.
On Saturday, the university announced plans to honor Rauf, including a moment of silence at the university’s Lessons and Carols event in Madonna della Strada Chapel, prayers during Sunday's mass and a community-wide prayer service at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Mundelein Center Auditorium.
"We are shocked and saddened by the tragic and senseless event that took the life of one of our students on Friday evening," Jane Neufeld, Loyola's senior vice president of student development said in a statement. "Our entire community mourns the loss of Mutahir Rauf, a fellow Loyolan, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this devastating time. This was a senseless act of violence, and one that has absolutely no place in a civil society.
She said the university's Wellness Center and Campus Ministry staff would be open this weekend, including additional hours on Sunday from 1:30-4 p.m. in room 217 of the Damen Student Center.
Thomas Murray, the university's chief of police, encouraged witnesses to come forward with information about the shooting, according to a notice on the university's website.
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