Chicago Dance Instructor Who Provided Safe Space for Children Is Killed a Block Away from Studio

Verndell Smith, 32, was shot and killed by unknown assailant or assailants on Wednesday

Verndell Smith
Photo: GoFundMe

A Chicago community is mourning the death of a popular dance instructor who was fatally shot near his studio last week.

Verndell Smith, 32, was walking out of a Dunkin' Donuts near his studio in the Park Manor neighborhood last Wednesday morning. Without warning, a silver SUV pulled into a parking lot and gunshots rang out. According to the Chicago Sun Times, Smith was hit in the leg, forehead and torso.

Paramedics arrived at the scene and rushed Smith to the University of Chicago Medical Center, where he was later pronounced dead.

According to Fox 32 Chicago, Smith leaves behind a 10-year-old son. His close-knit family is mourning his loss -- and members of his community say that his work impacted the life of countless students.

"He opened up a way to let these boys and girls be comfortable," fellow dance instructor Devoureaux Wolf tells the Chicago Sun Times. "Some of them needed a way to express themselves and Verndell would get that out of them."

Friends and family say that Smith was dedicated to creating safe places for students.

Smith was partially deaf, and his sister Latoya tells the Sun Times that he "found his voice" through dance.

"He had a disability, the fact he couldn't hear, and he continued to push through," she told the newspaper. "I want people to go after your dreams. He wanted to be a rapper, and at age 31, he started to rap again. It's never too late."

Authorities have not made any arrests in the shooting -- and don't know who would have had a motive to kill Smith. The case is ongoing.

Chicago police tell ABC 7 that the investigation remains open. Anyone with information should contact police or submit a tip anonymously online at

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