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Lincoln Square Murder Victim, a Father of Two, Feared Gangs, Mom Says

By Josh McGhee | March 24, 2015 6:34pm
 Dushanti Hassell, 21, of Edgewater, holding his newborn son.
Dushanti Hassell, 21, of Edgewater, holding his newborn son.
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Courtesy of Family

LINCOLN SQUARE — Hours before Dushanti Hassell, 21, was fatally shot on a typically quiet block in Lincoln Square Sunday, he surprised his mother by showing up at church.

"He must've left work early. I didn't even know he was there," his mother, Juanita Gartley, said Tuesday.

Gartley admitted that, when the two were back at their Edgewater home after the service at Family Empowerment Center, 1533 W. Devon Ave., she could see in his face that something was bothering her son, the father of two young children.

"Before he left, I asked him, 'What's wrong?' He said 'nothing' with this funny smile on a worried face. And that was the last time I saw my son alive," said Gartley.

Hassell went to visit a friend around 2 p.m. Three hours later, Hassell left the friend to meet another friend he was having problems with at Dunkin Donuts, Gartley said. The problem stemmed from a dispute over an iPod from when they both attended Senn High School, Gartley said.

His other "friends were worried," she said, concerned that the guy her son was going to meet with "wasn't a good guy."

But her son "was concerned with losing him as a friend. He wanted to resolve whatever issue he had with the guy," she said.

Around 6:35 p.m. Sunday, Hassell walked into an alley in the 2200 block of Winnemac Avenue with several men — where he was fatally shot in the head, police said. Moments later, witnesses saw a red SUV speed away from the scene, said Officer Michael Sullivan, a Chicago Police spokesman.

Josh McGhee sat down with Hassell's mother:

Hassell was taken to Illinois Masonic Medical Center, where his mother works as a nurse, and was pronounced dead. One of her coworkers called and alerted Gartley. Though she's seen many gunshot victims while working at the hospital, she never imagined her son being one of them.

"I wouldn't have ever expected that. I would've never thought that could happen. Not at all," she said.

Neighbors said they heard an argument in the alley on the block and were horrified by the fatal shooting. Witnesses told Gartley her son yelled "I don't want to go" repeatedly before they heard gunshots and his loud gasps for air.

Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th) and police said Hassell was a gang member and the shooting was gang-related.

He said the shooting "involved approximately five Hispanic males" and that Hassell lived "on North Kenmore Avenue and was part of the P-Stone Nation street gang." 

Hassell has a conviction for misdemeanor criminal trespassing in October 2012. He finished a sentence of six months probation in April 2013.

But Gartley said there's no truth to the accusation that her son was in a gang. She accused Ald. O'Connor of smearing Hassell's name "to give closure to the community because [the shooting] was frightening."

O'Connor could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Hassell, who lived in Lakeview until 2008, has friends who were "good" kids and others who were gang members, Gartley admitted.

"I'm upset because my son was not a gangbanger. He was not a gang member. He was not," Gartley said with a long sigh. 

But his lack of affiliation, she said, didn't keep him out of trouble. When he was an eighth-grader, a group of boys jumped him because he had a girlfriend in Twin Towers Apartments in Hyde Park and wasn't from the South Side. 

He told her the group ran up to him and "'they just punched me. All I could do was just ball up into a ball and use my book bag to protect me,'" she recalled him telling her.

That wasn't the only incident.

"It just kept happening. A lot of days I had to pick him up from school because they were scared for his safety," Gartley said.

In January she realized the depth of the danger when Hassell, who was heading out for the evening, asked to be dropped off at the Addison stop of the Red Line instead of the Bryn Mawr stop much closer to their Edgewater home.

Rival gangs hang out between the stops to "beat up and rob people" he told her.

"I told him, 'If it's that serious I'll take you all the way'" to where he was going, she said. "I felt like he was embarrassed to tell me. At that moment, I knew it was serious. As a mother that was so terrifying."

Hassell had recently got a job with an electric company and was looking forward to being able to provide for his 10-month-old son and 3-year-old daughter, she said.

"He was so happy. He was ready to move forward with his life and do right by his kids," said Gartley, adding her son was trying to go to college.

"He told me 'Ma, nothing good is going to happen for me here.' Now he's gone," she said.

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