EDGEWATER — Erin Escher said her boyfriend Quentin Payton was excited when he visited her during her work break Saturday, hours before he joined a group of friends on a party bus.
Though she decided against accompanying him, the two got ready together at Payton's house before he dropped her off to head for the bus.
"I told him to have fun, to go enjoy himself, be with his guys," she said.
By early Sunday morning, Payton, 28, had become one of three victims of a deadly shooting after stepping off the party bus in Edgewater.
A "verbal altercation" led to an exchange of shots around 12:30 a.m. between a dark-colored SUV and someone on the party bus after it stopped at the Dunkin Donuts at 6332 N. Broadway, 48th Ward Ald. Harry Osterman told constituents Wednesday.
Payton, who lived on the 6100 block of North Francisco Avenue in West Ridge, had stepped off the bus onto the sidewalk when he was shot in his head. He was taken to St. Francis Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 1:33 a.m., according to the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office.
Six minutes before he was shot, Escher said she received her last message from Payton: "His last text to me was he loved me with his whole life."
Escher described Payton as a "jokester" who wasn't known to have enemies. She said she didn't know what led to the shooting, but he had been at "the wrong place at the wrong time."
"I know at the end of the day he would never be the intended target, never, never," she said. "He didn't have problems with anybody — there would be no reason to."
The couple had been saving up to move in together, with Escher recently graduating from college and Payton working as a laborer to take care of himself and his 7-year-old daughter.
Now, Escher is planning Payton's funeral.
For Payton's life to end in such a tragic way was heartbreaking, Escher said, particularly because he had a hard life growing up.
Though his parents were around, Escher said Payton had to "grow up at a young age."
When his mother died four years ago, it hit Payton hard, she said.
"He had to do what he had to do on his own, to survive," Escher said. "But he did anything and everything he could in his power to do what he could, for his daughter especially. He loved that little girl.
"And then with his mother gone, that messed him up. He missed that lady every day. And now he's with her."
It was difficult for him to let his guard down with others, but when he did, it meant he thought you were special, Escher said of Payton.
He always ensured people around him felt happy and taken care of, wasn't afraid to express an opinion and was an all-around goofy guy who liked to joke and laugh.
No matter his mood, he loved to listen to music and often helped friends install sound systems in their cars.
Escher said despite the challenges he faced in life, she hoped Payton knew how much he meant to her and others.
"I just hope he knows that I loved him with everything, and I didn't deserve him," she said.
Another victim, 22-year-old Chaz Johnson of Evanston, was shot in his left torso while sitting in the backseat of a car, police said.
Johnson took himself to Community First Hospital in critical condition about 20 minutes after the shooting and was transferred to Illinois Masonic Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 8:43 a.m., the Medical Examiner's Office said.
A 32-year-old man who also left the bus and was standing next to Payton was hit in his left leg and also taken to St. Francis Hospital. His condition was not available, but he was listed as "stable," police said.
Osterman said police are reviewing security footage that may have captured the incident and that "police believe this to be an isolated incident, and no members of the community are at risk."
No one is in custody.
Anyone with information is asked to call Area North detectives at 312-744-8770.