Chicago dance instructor killed a few blocks away from studio

"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, niece of slain Chicago dance instructor Verndell Smith.

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Verndell “Vee” Smith, a 32-year-old dance instructor, was tragically gunned down in Chicago last Wednesday. Smith was walking out of a Dunkin Donuts in Chicago’s Park Manor neighborhood when a silver SUV opened fire in the parking lot; Smith was hit in his leg, arm, forehead, and torso, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. 

At the time of the drive-by shooting, Smith was only five blocks away from his dance studio and was taken to the University of Chicago Medical Center to no avail. With a motto of “stop shooting, start dancing,” Smith was known to be a positive force in Chicago’s South Side community by creating safe, recreational spaces for young people. 

32 year-old Chicago dance coach Verndell Smith. (Credit: GoFundMe)

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“He opened up a way to let these boys and girls be comfortable,” dance instructor Devoureaux Wolf told the Chicago Sun0Times. “Some of them needed a way to express themselves and Verndell would get that out of them.”

Sheila Neal, a mother whose son danced at Smith’s dance studio, called the instructor a “sweetheart” who “cared about those kids beyond recognition.”  Smith founded The Ultimate Threat dance organization ten years ago and created the Greater Grand Crossing dance studio for youth in the community. He also leaves behind his own ten-year-old son.

With a complete loss of hearing in one ear and only partial hearing the other, Smith had an extraordinary talent. His family told reporters that he came up with dance moves by feeling vibrations in the ground. Some of Smith’s favorite artists were Usher, B2K, Chris Brown, and Michael Jackson and he once wrote a song about his disability called, “Speak up, I can’t hear you,” Neal told the news publication. “You always had to look in his face for him to hear you. He made jokes out of it.”

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Smith’s outstanding dance team has performed in Chicago’s Bud Billiken parade, the largest African American parade in the country, 106 & Park, and the Apollo Theater. According to family accounts, Smith also dissuaded some youths he encountered from getting involved in gun violence. 

Celebrated dance instructor Verndell Smith was killed Wednesday after walking out of a Dunkin Donuts. (Video by FOX 32)

Chicago police have opened an investigation into Smith’s death and are looking for his killers; police have not identified a possible motive, and no one has been arrested. Smith’s family believes his death is a case of mistaken identity and has implored whoever is responsible to turn themselves in, according to FOX 32

“Whoever did this took a great man from this world. Took a kind human being and our lives will be forever changed,” said Smith’s niece, Zahrya Grimes. 

Chicago police say anyone with information about Smith’s death should contact police or submit an anonymous tip at

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