Students still wearing backpacks and holding flowers filled the Hyde Park Gothic chapel Thursday afternoon as pictures of Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng rotated on a TV screen, showing his progression from a small child striking a silly pose to an adult in a suit standing straight to display his academic accomplishments.
Hundreds settled on the red velvet cushions before the memorial service, held at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel as Ed Sheeran’s “Photograph” played on repeat. One woman stood to the side and cried softly as another offered her a hug and led her toward the back of the church. The service started at 3 p.m. sharp, with a low steady ring.
A framed portrait of Zheng sat on stage surrounded by large displays of white and yellow flowers.
Zheng, 24, was fatally shot Nov. 9 during a robbery near the University of Chicago, where he had graduated with a master’s degree in statistics earlier this year.
His killing, which was the third student or recent graduate of the university this year, sparked outrage and demand for safety from students to the university and city. The man accused of pulling the trigger was quickly arrested and ordered held without bond within a week of Zheng’s slaying.
Thursday was a time for stillness. His family, flown in from China, was part of the crowd and directly addressed the university community for the first time.
His mother, Li Rong, was one of the last to take the podium. She wore a black coat and a scarf. As she spoke, in Mandarin, some bowed their heads as tears began to fall. She was steady with her words.
“I went abroad for the first time in my life not to attend your graduation ceremony, let alone your wedding celebration, but to attend your funeral,” she said. “You said you wanted to take me to see me the world. You wanted me to witness your dreams. You wanted us to look forward to the future together.”
Rong went on to demand justice be brought to her son’s killer and called for the safety of every international student so that her tragedy is never repeated.
“I am going to bring you home,” she said.
Chicago Tribune’s Alice Yin contributed.