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CPS employee killed outside school remembered as 'standout' student

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Denzel Thornton, 25, went from being homeless at one point during high school to getting $300,000 in college scholarships. (WLS)

Family and friends gathered to honor Denzel Thornton, a CPS employee who was shot outside Ronald McNair Elementary School in the Austin neighborhood Thursday afternoon. A vigil is being held Friday at Corliss High School, where he graduated.

Chef Lois DeShazier, a culinary arts teacher at Corliss, grieved the loss of a former student who was like a son.

"I was just in shock. I mean, I grabbed his picture when I got home and just remembered all of the good times," DeShazier said.

CPS' culinary arts program staff heard the news that a co-worker and CPS graduate was shot and killed outside of McNair Elementary School.

"All he was doing is try to support our youth, support healthy eating," said David Blackmon, director of CPS' Culinary Arts Program.

Grief counselors were at the school for staff and students. Thornton, 25, was a Nutrition Compliance Manager and had studied the culinary arts at Corliss and in college.
He loves teaching and cooking, and inspired others around him.

"You could see his passion every day. It was in his smile, it was in the support that he gave staff and students," said Leslie Fowler, executive director, CPS Nutrition Support Services.

The shy young man overcame so much. He went from being homeless at one point during high school to getting $300,000 in college scholarships. He was quickly hired as a chef for Disney, then came back to Chicago when his grandmother became ill.

But Thornton had one "Momma Chef" - that's what he called his high school teacher who became a support beyond the classroom.

"I have to say, he was the standout. He was the one that comes once a lifetime," DeShazier said.

DeShazier said without fail, she always heard from Thornton on Mother's Day. This year was no different; he sent a dozen roses "To: Momma Chef. Love, Denzel."

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