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Son of Stafford principal killed in Chicago

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William Lewis

William Lewis

William Lewis was just 5 years old when he told his mother that he wanted to leave his birthplace and live in America.

Joe Lewis, now the principal at Stafford High School, picked up William, his newly adopted son, from Guatemala two years later. The then-7-year-old bear-hugged his new father, stood at the top of the airport stairs, waved goodbye to his country and never looked back, his family said.

It was a moment that Joe Lewis said he would never forget of his son.

“Here’s this little guy who came to America and touched all these peoples’ lives. It’s just incredible,” Joe Lewis said.

Nearly two decades after that fateful moment in Guatemala, William Lewis, 28, died Saturday after a man on foot shot him in the back while Lewis was standing on a street not far from his Chicago home, police said. Lewis died within an hour at a Chicago-area hospital.

“I think, like all of us, I would describe it to people as just feeling numb. It’s not real yet. It’s still something you’ll hear about that happened to some other people,” Joe Lewis said Monday.

Hannah Lewis, one of William’s two younger sisters, described it as a nightmare that she couldn’t wake up from.

Chicago police have charged Eric Vaughn, 31, with multiple offenses including first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder. Police are looking for additional suspects.

Police said that it doesn’t appear that Lewis was the intended target, and that the shooting was possibly gang-related. Joe Lewis said that police are still on the lookout for who actually pulled the trigger.

William, who was also known as Wil, had pushed to leave Guatemala to escape the violence.

“He told me that if he had stayed in Guatemala, he would have either ended up in a gang or dead,” Joe Lewis said.

Wil’s birth mother had left him in open-air markets twice before he hit age 5.

“He had seen more things in his childhood than we will see in our entire lives,” Kim Lewis, Joe’s wife, said. “He was very self-sufficient.”

Wil had no formal education in Guatemala, but that didn’t stop him from finishing his homework after he arrived in the U.S., even though it took him about three times as long as it would take a normal student, his mother said. Wil also had to overcome a learning disability that made it hard to translate his thoughts onto paper. The family, Joe Lewis said, ended up speaking three languages: English, Spanish and charades.

Accomplishing things he set his mind to without worrying what other people thought was the thing that Emily Lewis said she loved the most about her older brother.

“People always said, ‘It’s so remarkable that your family was able to adopt him.’ But we always point out that the blessing was ours in being able to adopt Wil. It was just incredible that he was just a positive young man, that he overcame all of that,” Joe Lewis said.

Growing up in Wisconsin, Wil threw himself in a little bit of everything including wrestling, swimming, soccer and drumming in the show choir. Early on in school, Wil became the official “turner offer-oner” because of his amazement at one switch that could turn the lights on and off.

“He had a big personality, but in a quiet way. He was not afraid to start up a conversation with someone else,” Kim Lewis said.

Wil attended Sturgeon Bay High School in Wisconsin as a freshman and sophomore while his father was the high school principal there.

After his father became principal at Kaukauna High School, Wil transferred there and graduated in 2005. Three years later, Joe Lewis moved to Virginia.

“He never slowed down to get his accomplishments. He just kept on growing,” Kim Lewis said.

William and his wife, Maria, had only lived in Chicago for about a year. They moved to the city so that Maria Lewis could start work as an art director at Leo Burnett, an advertising company.

Wil had done freelance photography work for Kohl’s and Sears before recently landing a full-time job taking photos for an online men’s clothing store, according to his family.

He was expected to start that new job on Monday.

Maria and Wil met as students at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, where Wil graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with an emphasis in photography.

Maria and Wil were weeks away from their two-year anniversary. They had just started talking about having children, Joe Lewis said.

“I think it’s only natural for anybody who reads or hears this story to think about the negative and to think about the tragedy. But I think the bigger message is twofold,” Joe Lewis said.

On the one hand, Joe Lewis said, the tragedy shows the positive effect that Wil had on people and also that people have to take advantage of time with loved ones. “You have to make sure that you tell the people in your life that they are important and you love them because you don’t know when they are going to be taken away,” Joe Lewis said tearfully.

Vanessa Remmers: 540/735-1975


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