Madeline Buckley and Rosemary Sobol
Dwain Williams was a man of many talents. An accomplished chess player, he also mastered the keyboards and guitar, performing in a band of fellow firefighters.
But above all, his passion was serving the city during his more than two decades with the Chicago Fire Department, his family said. “He put his whole heart into the city,” his wife Karen Armstrong-Williams said.
With her stepdaughter clutching her arm for support, Williams spoke softly about her husband Friday, the day after the 65-year-old retired firefighter was shot dead by carjackers not far from his Southwest Side home. Friends and family members filtered in and out as services were arranged, coordinating COVID-19 tests among the many tasks.
Williams’ youngest daughter said she used to worry about the danger of her father’s job as a firefighter and paramedic, and was relieved when he took a desk job as he neared retirement about two years ago. She never expected to have to worry for his safety after he retired.
“I was angry. I’m confused. I’m more lost,” Dakeeda Williams-Barton said.
After stopping at his favorite popcorn shop on Thursday afternoon, Williams was walking toward his maroon Jeep Grand Cherokee when a black car slowed down and three people jumped out, all of them with guns.
As they walked toward him, Williams pulled a revolver from his waistband and exchanged fire with them outside the store in the 2400 block of West 118th Street. He was hit once in the abdomen and collapsed. The gunmen piled back into their car and sped off down Artesian Avenue.
The shooting apparently happened so quickly the car was still moving when the attackers jumped in, the police report said.
Responding officers found Williams lying on the pavement next to his Jeep, his revolver close by. It was not known if any of the attackers were hit, but police recovered shell casings from their guns: 9 mm, .40-caliber and .38-caliber.
Police believe the three were trying to steal Williams’ Jeep. No arrests have been reported, and police said they were canvassing the area for security camera footage that would show the gunmen.
An employee at Let’s Get Poppin’ said Williams was a regular and “just came in to buy his popcorn” before he was shot.
Bouquets of flowers were piled outside the shop Friday afternoon. The store manager, Larry James, recalled Williams as a customer who was always nice to the workers, and who chatted and laughed with other customers. He frequently purchased the cheese and caramel combo.
“He was not just a customer, he was family,” James said.
James had arrived at the store shortly before the shooting and saw Williams there, laughing with customers as usual.
Shortly afterward, his employees cried that they heard gunshots and James called 911. He rushed outside and saw Williams on the ground.
“It hurts,” James said.
Williams-Barton spoke fondly of the popcorn shop, calling it “our place.” She and her dad often bought popcorn and watched movies together. As a child, she remembers him taking her to drive-ins.
Her father was heavily involved with children’s groups, coaching basketball teams through the park district, she said.
“He was my superman,” she said. “I was proud of him.”
Williams joined the Fire Department in 1992. His last assignment was at the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications. He held a concealed carry license, according to police.
His daughter said Williams worked on the front lines as a first responder and had hoped for peace in the city’s epidemic of gun violence. “He just wanted everybody to be peaceful … and to be able to enjoy the things we’ve worked so hard for,” she said.
Williams is survived by his wife of more than 30 years, four adult children, nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
The attack occurred just blocks from a shooting in August at a pancake restaurant that left one person dead and four others wounded. Chicago police Chief of Operations Brian McDermott was asked what police are doing about crime in the area.
“We hear their concerns loud and clear,” McDermott said Thursday evening. “Just know there are hundreds of officers out there … that lay their lives on the line every day, and we’re continuing to do our job.”
He was also asked about a recent spike in carjackings across the city. “We’re well aware of the increase in carjackings,” McDermott said. “We’re doing our best.”
This is retired Chicago firefighter Dwain Williams, shot & killed this evening during an attempted carjacking moments after picking-up popcorn at a favorite neighborhood store. https://t.co/S9n97jdJGA @WGNNews pic.twitter.com/dR3R79lgoD— Ben Bradley (@BenBradleyTV) December 4, 2020
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