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CPS Employee Killed Outside School: 'The Moral Compass Has Been Shattered'

By  Joe Ward Stephanie Lulay and Alex Nitkin | June 16, 2016 2:23pm | Updated on June 16, 2016 8:43pm

 A man was shot dead outside an Austin elementary school Thursday afternoon, according to police.
A man was shot dead outside an Austin elementary school Thursday afternoon, according to police.
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Joseph Carrillo

CHICAGO — A Chicago Public Schools employee was shot dead outside an Austin elementary school Thursday afternoon, according to CPS and police.

Denzel Thornton, 25, who worked in nutrition services for CPS, was found outside of McNair Elementary School, 4820 W. Walton St., according to CPS officials. The shooting caused the Austin school to temporarily go on lockdown.

Thornton was found in the 4800 block of West Walton Street at 12:30 p.m. Thursday with a gunshot wound to the head, confirmed Officer Laura Amezaga, a Chicago Police spokeswoman.

Alex Nitkin on neighborhood reaction to the latest shooting.

He was pronounced dead at the scene, she said.

 Vendors set up outside a graduation ceremony at McNair Elementary School.
Vendors set up outside a graduation ceremony at McNair Elementary School.
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DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin

Thornton had worked as a CPS compliance specialist for nutrition services for the past 10 months and was doing his regular rounds at McNair Thursday afternoon, according to a statement from CPS CEO Forrest Claypool. Thornton was a 2009 graduate of Corliss High School in Pullman, according to an e-mail to CPS employees. 

Curtis Cooley, 7, was in art class when he and his classmates were told to get under their desks, he said.

"It was kind of frightening," Curtis said. "Like, none of us knew what was going on."

Curtis's father, Joseph Cooley, called the shooting the last straw. Less than a month earlier he had to dive to cover his two children when someone started shooting near the school, he said.

"It's like there's no line of demarcation anymore," Cooley said. "It's like the moral compass has been shattered."

I'm not even angry anymore," he added. "I'm just sad. We need to get out of here."

Cooley said he hopes to move with his family to Oak Park.

When Deborah Harris came to pick up her son Marcus, 6, she had similar plans in mind.

"He's always asking me, 'momma, when are we gonna move?'" Harris said. "It's gotten to the point that he can't ever be outside anymore, especially in the last couple weeks. We can't even live our lives, or function as a neighborhood anymore."

The shooting occurred hours before a graduation ceremony, which continued as planned Thursday afternoon. 

No suspects are in custody, Amezaga said.

After graduating Corliss, Thornton attended Johnson & Wales University-Florida, where he earned his degree and later completed several certification programs with the National Restaurant Association and the American Culinary Federation, according to an e-mail to CPS employees. He also served in roles for Walt Disney World in Florida before he returned to Chicago to continue his career with CPS. 

Claypool said the entire CPS community was devastated to learn about Thornton's death. 

"Denzel Thornton was a member of our Nutrition Services team, and like many CPS employees, he worked hard every day to serve our children," Claypool said. "Even in challenging circumstances, CPS employees are extraordinarily dedicated to the students we serve, and I have the deepest respect for their commitment and hard work. I extend my heartfelt condolences to the friends and family of Denzel Thornton, and we will all keep them in our thoughts and prayers.” 

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