2 teens charged after Vietnam vet dies in Hyde Park carjacking attempt: police

Keith Cooper was a Vietnam veteran who served in the US Marine Corps

ByJessica D'Onofrio, Evelyn Holmes, Liz Nagy, and ABC7 Chicago Digital Team WLS logo
Saturday, July 17, 2021
Vigil held for Vietnam vet killed in Hyde Park carjacking attempt
Two suspects have been charged with a violent attempted carjacking in Hyde Park that ended with the death of a Vietnam War veteran

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Two suspects have been charged with a violent attempted carjacking that ended with the death of a Vietnam War veteran, Chicago police said Friday.

Police said an adult and a juvenile are responsible for the beating that led to Keith Cooper's death.

A marine veteran to his core, Cooper's family said he had his final arrangements already planned out, but he couldn't have imagined this.

"This is the place where he was last seen alive, living his life, so I want to celebrate his life here," said Cooper's daughter Keimika Carlton.

It's a remarkable full-circle moment.

Just days ago Carlton raced to this same Hyde Park shopping center after her father was essentially beaten to death by two teenagers trying to steal his SUV, according to police.

Frank Harris, 18, has been charged with murder and vehicular hijacking, and a 17-year-old boy has been charged with first-degree murder in Cooper's death.

Harris remains behind bars after he was given no bail at his bond hearing Friday.

"I'm grateful that the justice system is moving forward," Carlton said. "I'm hopeful that they would get the maximum sentence for this because they earned it."

Both were arrested shortly after police said they tried to carjack the 73-year-old Cooper, a Vietnam veteran who stopped for groceries Wednesday in Hyde Park on his way to his daughter's house.

The 17-year-old accomplice targets Cooper right after he got out of his car to go into a drug store at a South Side strip mall, investigators said.

They said the teen first approached Cooper from behind, snatching his keys out of his hand. When the fob fell to the ground and Harris picked it up, Cooper started screaming for help and demanded his keys back.

Prosecutors said security camera video shows Harris walking up behind the veteran and punching him in the head. Cooper can be seen writhing in pain.

The other carjacker then shoves Cooper in the chest before the pair run away without the car.

Carlton struggled to listen to every word read in court.

"It's hard to listen to because this young man is 18 years old. I have an almost 18-year-old. As a mother, to hear his voice... to hear his past history and to see that this is not the first time for him, that was tough," Carlton said.

She said the beating caused her father to have a heart attack and die.

"Out of frustration because they couldn't get into the car. I kind of wish they just would have gave up and left," she said.

His daughter is still asking why?

"If I could ask them that question, I would like to know, I mean I don't know if I would enjoy the answer, but it's like why," Carlton said. "Why couldn't you just take the car and leave him alone."

Witnesses who fought the two suspects helped police track them down. They were caught about a half-mile away after a witness flagged down a University of Chicago police squad.

Prosecutors said Harris allegedly committed the crime while on probation he pled guilty on May 13 to a previous carjacking last year where he used a replica gun to rob his victim.

Harris' public defender said her client, who she said was shot last month, is a senior in an alternative summer school and has a paid position with the anti-violence group Good Kids Mad City.

"We, unfortunately, lost contact with Frank for the most part. We wish there were more resources out here so we could have given him more opportunities so situations like this won't happen," said Kofi Ademola, an adult advisor for Good Kids Mad City.

Because Cooper was over 60, the charges for both suspects would carry a tougher sentence.