By BRITTANY REYES
Homicide Watch Chicago
A knock on the door on the morning of March 4 surprised Shapearl Wells, and when Chicago Police officers told her to call Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center about her son, Courtney Copeland, she knew something was wrong.
“My heart immediately dropped because police don’t just come to your door asking you to call the hospital unless it’s something serious,” Wells said. “When we called the hospital, they said they couldn’t give us any information over the phone, and I completely lost it because I knew it had to be bad.”
When the family arrived at the hospital, they were immediately brought to the family room and Wells said at that point, she knew her son was gone. They sat for 30 minutes awaiting news, and after the doctor came in to confirm Copeland’s passing, the family was told the cause of death: another senseless shooting.
“I was totally devastated,” Wells said. “In my mind I thought he got into a car accident or maybe he fell asleep at the wheel, but it never crossed my mind that they would tell me my son had been shot. I immediately started screaming out, ‘Who shot my son?’”
The location of the shooting has yet to be determined by authorities but according to police reports, the 22-year-old approached officers in front of the 25th District headquarters in Belmont Cragin, and told them he had been shot in the back. He was rushed to the North Side hospital, but pronounced dead 45 minutes later.
There are no suspects in custody and little progress has been made in terms of solving the killing, according to Wells.
“I have zero percent confidence in CPD based on what they’ve told me so far,” she said. “I could be wrong, but to be perfectly honest, I think the only way Courtney’s murder will be solved is if we solve it ourselves.”
While Wells’ faith in CPD has dwindled, the grieving mother says her trust in God has been strengthened tenfold. She described her son as a devout “man of God,” and remembered how often and how passionately he would speak of his faith during presentations at work and in everyday life.
Though she wasn’t with her son during his final moments, Wells hopes Copeland took the time to glorify God. A nurse said she prayed with the 22-year-old before his death, and the heartbroken mother says that thought alone gives her comfort.
“You can never question the will of God and I know that,” Wells said. “I have a deep-rooted faith and I’ve been strengthened by this because it’s brought my family and I closer.
“My son was taken so fast and it’s showed us that life isn’t something we can take for granted. In this tragedy, I still believe that God is working through Courtney to reach others and bring them into faith.”
Copeland’s untimely death was a staggering loss to his loved ones—his mother regarded him as “the glue that kept everybody together.”
After his biological father died when he was 4, and his grandmother passed two years ago, Wells said Copeland was given the torch to take care of his family.
“Courtney cared a lot about the people in his life,” said Steven Otero, one of his best friends since childhood. “He wanted to make sure his family was financially free and happy. He wanted to make sure they were set in life, and that’s why he was always working so hard for them.”
As a rising employee at the World Ventures travel agency, Copeland made a name for himself in the business with his drive and fun-loving attitude. Though he was only introduced to the company two years ago, the dedicated businessman thrived in his field and told his mother, “This is going to be my life. I’m going to do things that I want and provide for my family.”
It seemed like life was looking up for Copeland. Otero explained how their dreams of traveling the world were finally coming true. Along with their other best friend, Christian Pineda, the trio went on 16 trips together in the last two years and their golden 21st birthdays were spent in Las Vegas, which Copeland had regarded as a goal since childhood, according to Otero.
“Everything was so perfect for us. We went from the bottom to the top and our future was promised,” Otero said. “I don’t know who did this to Courtney, and I don’t know if it was jealousy or something else, but we were doing great things. We weren’t hurting anybody and I don’t understand why anyone would do this.”
The day before the shooting, Copeland was in Otero’s house enjoying a home-cooked meal with his friend. Otero describes the moment as one of the greatest honors in his life, because it gave him a chance to repay Copeland for constantly taking care of him and making sure he had something to eat.
They met in elementary school and from the time Otero was in 8th grade to when he was a sophomore in high school, Wells and her family took Otero into their home as their own. Otero described his own childhood as a “rough time,” but credits Copeland’s mother as the motivation and support he needed to complete high school and pursue a career as a barber.
From taking them on vacations during childhood to making sure they were fed every day, Wells’ love for her family knows no bounds, he said.
At Copeland’s funeral in March, some 3,000 people attended the service and Otero said it was “the greatest thing because his mom was able to see how many people Courtney touched, and everyone was thanking her for raising a child like that.”
While the pain is something he deals with every day, Otero is dedicated to living out Copeland’s legacy.
“I will carry on his goals and make sure our family is financially well and healthy,” Otero said. “I will carry out his plans through my actions because that’s my brother and I love him. He means the world to me and I can’t wait to see him again.”
Copeland’s positive energy was infectious to all those around him. He excelled as a student athlete and helped his high school basketball team at Jones College Prep win the city championship during his senior year. He started college at Indiana Dabney University, but later decided to focus on his work at World Ventures and jump into the real world.
Aside from a love for sports and travel, Copeland was also an avid reader, a trait his mother always encouraged.
Otero described the relationship between Copeland and Wells as a “beautiful thing” and explained how Wells constantly pushed her son to be educated and work hard.
“Courtney’s mom was a reflection of Courtney,” Otero said. “She made sure she raised him right and Courtney had everything he needed, but she never just gave him things. She wanted him to be a man and do great things, and because of that Courtney inspired a lot of people.”
Wells and Otero described Copeland as someone who loved reaching out to others and his compassion extended not only to those he knew, but to strangers on the street. Even though he wasn’t necessarily well off, Copeland always offered help to those who were suffering, and as a parent, Wells says she has “no complaints.”
As she continues to raise her two daughters, Kayla and Jasmyne, with the help of her husband, Brent, Wells explains how the past month has been a “long haul, but we’re just trying to get back to some sense of normalcy.”
With one child finishing her sophomore year of high school, and the other graduating and preparing for college, it’s been difficult for Wells to imagine the future without her son.
“For me as a mother, I simply can’t rest until the person who did this to Courtney is brought to justice,” Wells said. “That being said, I know I can’t keep my other kids in a box. Even though I wish I could just lock them up and keep them safe, I know I have to let them live. Courtney would want us to live.”
In support of other mothers who have lost children to violence, Wells believes the important thing is for these brave women to stay true to their efforts and keep the memories of their children alive through their actions.
“I’d tell the other mothers out there dealing with the same situation to stay prayerful and diligent, because that’s the only way we’re going to find answers,” Wells said.
“As hard as it is, you have to be your child’s voice. I don’t wish this on anyone but when this happens, your children can no longer speak. As difficult as it is to talk to the media and bring it to the forefront, we have to do it if we want to find justice for our children.”