Church Deacon Shot Dead in Chicago; Had 'Christ in the Center of His Life'

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(Photo: WGN-TV)74-year-old Willie Cooper, a church deacon, was gunned down outside his Chicago home on Dec. 19, 2013.

A 74-year-old church deacon has been gunned down outside a Chicago, Ill. house in the early morning Dec. 19.

Willie Cooper was picking up his best friend and co-worker Steve Herron at 4:45 a.m., when gunmen opened fire on his car in an suspected carjacking.

"Everybody on the block heard those gunshots," Herron, who was on his way out the door when he heard the shooting, told Chicago CBS Local. "They killed my friend, gangland style, Bonnie and Clyde, a 74 year old man."

"His car ran into the gate. They didn't give him a chance to put the car in park. They killed this man for a car. It wasn't even a new car. Nothing fancy. Just a car," he added, referring to Cooper's Chevy sedan.

St. Phillip Neri pastor Thomas Belanger, who leads the church where Herron was a deacon, said that the elderly man was an active presence in his community and often mentored young men in the area.

"He would deliver words of optimism but also of challenge. He like to challenge our young men to really extend themselves, to go after their dreams," he told The Chicago Tribune. 

"His passion, his love was for the children of Chicago, especially for our young men. He was a great mentor. He really was a man with vision, with Christ at the center of his life," he added.

Herron was a retired Chicago Transit worker.

Several blocks away from Cooper's murder, musician, husband and father of six Eric Davis was gunned down 30 minutes after Herron was shot.

"Loved to joked around. Played his music. Loved his children. Loved to travel," his wife Leslie Bell told The Chicago Tribune about her husband, who had just been signed to a record label.

"His music was from the heart. He sung from his heart. And everything he wrote, he wrote from the heart," Bell added.

Police are unsure whether the shootings were related and also are unclear about what the motives were. The shootings were the fourth and fifth of the week, giving Chicago 400 homicides for the year - a shockingly high figure, but yet still an improvement on last year's 500.

Pastor Belanger mourned Cooper, testifying that he was known for his "words of optimism but also of challenge."

"The deacon said, you know, you don't know when the Lord will call you. I don't think this was the way he imagined," he said.