CHICAGO (WLS) -- Police are searching for the gunman who shot and killed a dance coach as he left a coffee shop Wednesday morning on Chicago's South Side.
The grief was palpable outside the Greater Grand Crossing dance studio Verndell Smith created.
Zahana Hogan, his young niece, shared a message for his killer as tears rolled down her face: "Just let him finish his life. You're cruel. Just let him finish his mission, just let him."
Smith stopped for coffee before rehearsal at E. 75th Street and S. King Drive and someone shot him several times from a silver SUV, possibly a Dodge Journey, at 11:20 a.m. The 32-year-old died at the hospital.
"You couldn't find another person in life that's better than my son," said Renee Moore, his mother.
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"Whoever did this took a great man from this world. Took a kind human being and our lives will be forever changed," said Zahrya Grimes, his neice.
Smith started the Ultimate Threat Dance Organization 10 years ago and helped many young people dance and stay safe, using the slogan "Stop shooting and start dancing."
"I've been on his team since 2014," dancer Jasmine Harris said. "That's around the time my life started going in a different direction than I planned, and he's been there for me ever since."
He couldn't actually hear the music. His family said he only had partial hearing in one ear and felt the rhythm.
"He feels the beat from the ground," said LaToya Smith, his sister. "He's able to dance and make up moves without hearing the words."
Chicago police said the investigation remains open. Anyone with information should contact police or submit a tip anonymously online at CPDTIP.com.