BY MITCH DUDEK
Wil Lewis escaped poverty in Guatemala when he was adopted at age 7. Loving parents raised him in Wisconsin, where he found his two passions: photography and the woman who would become his wife.
He attended art school in Milwaukee and moved to Chicago two years ago. He was looking forward to starting a new job Monday, finally ending the rat race of freelance photography.
Lewis, 28, and his wife moved into a new Rogers Park apartment just two weeks ago. They were thinking about starting a family.
On Saturday, gunfire upended their plans. Lewis was standing in the 1300 block of West Devon Avenue about 3:20 p.m. when a gunman approached on foot and shot him in the back, police said. He was pronounced dead less than 40 minutes later.
“He was looking to start a family. He was talking about having children,” said Warren Rader, a close friend and fellow photographer. “Everything was going right for him.”
Lewis’ wife, an art director with the advertising firm Leo Burnett, called Rader on Sunday morning.
“She was inconsolable. She said Wil had been shot. She was just breaking down. I could hardly understand her,” said Rader, who noted they were about two weeks away from celebrating their second wedding anniversary.
Ald. Joe Moore (49th) happened to witness the shooting.
“I happened to be on Devon only a block from the shooting and heard the gunfire,” he said in a statement. “I looked up to see the assailant, who appeared to be a teenager, continue to fire his weapon at a group of fleeing youths. It is something I will never forget. I am told that police believe the shooting was a result of a gang dispute in another neighborhood that spilled into our own.”
Lewis was killed about 36 hours before he was set to begin his new job as a photographer for Trunk Club, an online men’s clothing store, Rader said.
“Wil was absolutely thrilled he was getting this new start in life and wasn’t going to be in the rat race as a freelancer,” Rader said.
Lewis’ family lived for a time in California, but they spent most of their time in Sturgeon Bay and Kaukauna, Wisconsin, where Lewis’ father, Joseph Lewis, worked as a high school principal.
“His dad had this philosophy of helping Wil and getting him a good life, and he did a great job at it,” said Rader, who attended the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design with Lewis.
Rader recalled a conversation he had with his friend in Milwaukee a year or two ago, before Lewis moved to Chicago.
“We were talking about conceal-carry gun licenses and how much nonsense it was and how unlikely it was that you’d ever get into a confrontation … He just thought it wasn’t something an everyday person would have to deal with,” Rader said.
To pay the bills, Lewis shot photos of products for various retailers, but his passion was street photography.
“One of his favorite things to do was just walk around and meet interesting people and hear their stories, feel the love,” Rader said. “He was excited to be in Chicago. It’s so big and there are so many unique people there.”
Rader said he spoke with Lewis on July 2 about a photo shoot he was planning.
“I texted him yesterday around the time he was shot. I never heard back,” he said.
“He was a pretty chill, relaxed, easygoing guy. He had a great aura and great energy and was always smiling and he always made your day better. He had these giant canines. We called them cannibal teeth, and people just loved that about him.” Rader said. “He was definitely one of my best friends.”
He’s having a hard time understanding why his friend is gone.
“His death is absolutely unnecessary. Chicago is getting a real bad rap for this. It’s getting way too common.”