Nigerian Rising soccer star gunned down after Bulls game
Those who knew Kabiru Adewunmi could easily imagine the 16-year-old flashing his pearl-white smile as he and five friends from his native Nigeria walked to a Chatham-neighborhood convenience store after celebrating a playoff win Tuesday night by the Chicago Bulls.
As much as he cheered on his adopted hometown’s team, the youth’s real passion was soccer.
The 16-year-old Amundsen High sophomore had been in Chicago for less than a year after winning a spot on a competitive youth soccer league run by the Chicago Fire. His coach said the intelligent, good-natured teen with the easy smile was already catching the eye of college recruiters.
But his dreams of superstardom came to an end that night when police said a gunman opened fire on Adewunmi, killing him as his friends watched.
Investigators believe that the shooting, which occurred just before 9:30 p.m. in the 800 block of East 82nd Street, may have been gang-related, though Adewunmi was not involved in gangs and had only recently moved to the neighborhood.
As of Thursday night, Police had not made any arrest in the shooting and hadn’t yet determined a motive.
Adewunmi was a “fantastic kid. The type of kid any classical sports organization would love to have him be a part of,” said Sole Antonijevic, who coached the teen’s 17-and-under team at the Chicago Fire Academy.
Antonijevic said he had no doubts that the talented teen could someday play professional soccer, adding that playing against other top-ranked youth teams across the country had raised the boy’s prospects.
“There (were) numerous emails from Division I colleges asking about his situation and saying they would like to recruit him and for him to be part of their programs,” Antonijevic said. “It doesn’t happen very often that you have 10 or 15 Division I schools calling me and asking for that information.”
But the teen had smaller immediate goals, according to his English teacher at Amundsen. The teen hoped a high school diploma and a good ACT score would be followed by admission to an American college with a top-ranked soccer program.
The teen did have at least one other dream job, his teacher said.
“He wrote about wanting to be a firefighter because they can save people’s lives,” said Jorie Malone, an Indiana University student teacher who taught Adewunmi’s English as a second language course.
Though shy with other students, Malone said Adewunmi, through his writing assignments, opened up about himself and his hard, impoverished life growing up in a small village in Nigeria. Adewunmi took pride in being one of the few young Africans to successfully use soccer as a way out of poverty.
“He seemed genuinely happy and he didn’t seem to take anything for granted,” Malone said.
Adewunmi didn’t use his youth mired in poverty as an excuse to complain, Malone said. Even when speaking about those nagging little everyday inconveniences -– like his nearly two-hour daily commute from his new neighborhood to Amundsen -– he put a positive spin on it.
With that same bright smile, said Malone, Adewunmi offered, “No, it’s not that bad,”