“He was such a rare person”
LOGAN SQUARE – Remembering 26-year-old Suraj Mahadeva, many friends and family said the same thing: they wouldn’t be who they are without him.
Whether dancing, making jokes, or showing off and listening, Mahadeva had a knack for uplifting the people around him, always pushing them to give their best, his relatives said at the event. ‘a vigil Thursday.
About 100 mourners have filled the Center on Halsted Theater at 3656 N. Halsted St. to honor Mahadeva, who was killed in a shootout in Palmer Square last weekend in what appears to be a random attack.
For two hours, family and friends took turns sharing memories of Mahadeva from the community center stage as photos and videos of the 26-year-old – full of life and surrounded by friends – paraded on projector screen.
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Originally from Michigan, Mahadeva was many things: a brother, a son and a dear friend. But at the heart of his life were his American-Asian heritage – in particular, Sri Lankan and Filipino – and his LGBTQIA identity. In high school and college, he led groups of Asian American students. And in Chicago, where he settled after graduating from Michigan State University with a neuroscience degree, he was an active member of the city’s LGBTQIA community.
The night Christian Aldana met Mahadeva in college, he was hosting a Filipino cultural event.
âAnd for anyone who knows Suraj, it’s so fitting that he is the person who harbors and maintains everyone’s energy,â Aldana said.
Aldana and Mahadeva remained friends after college. She said Mahadeva’s warmth is what propelled her forward when she struggled.
âWhen we reconnected, I was at a point in my life trying to figure out my homosexuality for myself,â Aldana said. “He made me dinner in his apartment and he made fried fish – Filipino style – [when] I was in such a sad state. I don’t think he knew it at the time, but this meal meant so much to me because I felt so seen by someone else who understood the things I was thinking and going through and who understood what he feeling of home and stability is so important, especially for queer people.
Mahadeva was a skilled cook, music and dance lover and a kind and compassionate person who looked after her friends and everyone he came in contact with, her ex-boyfriend Stevie Hanley said. Hanley and other friends and family said Mahadeva felt very comfortable in Chicago, where he built a life around his queer identity.
High school and college friend Teja Kodali said one of Mahadeva’s defining characteristics was her selflessness. Mahadeva worked as a daytime medical technician, but volunteered in her spare time, teaching children with autism to swim and helping homeless Chicago youth. When asked what he wanted to do with his life, he replied, âHelp others. “
âShe was such a rare person. I don’t think I’ll ever meet someone like him, âKodali said. âHe taught me so much about life. He had such an open mind. He was so curious [about] people and getting to know them, and understanding their life and trying to walk for them. â¦ I really think the world is going to be a darker place without him.
Mahadeva was shot in the head while on a friend’s porch just before 3:30 a.m. Saturday in the 2100 block of North Albany Avenue, according to police and relatives. Friends and family said it was a random attack. Police have no description of a suspect and were unable to provide further information on the events leading up to the shooting.
Desperate for justice and answers, Mahadeva’s family calls on anyone with information about the shooting to come forward.
“The best way to be safe is to catch the person who did this and prevent people from being able to do something like this again,” Mahadeva’s sister Althea said previously.
But the police investigation – and the circumstances of the mysterious shooting – were not mentioned during the vigil on Thursday. Instead, friends and family used the event to honor Mahadeva and reflect on a life well lived.
Jennifer, a family member who declined to give her last name, said she was grateful that she was able to spend so much time with Mahadeva, even though her life was cut short.
âHe’s someone who inspired me to be a better person. There was a feeling of irreplaceable joy and warmth in her mind, âshe said. “Honestly, I can’t say that I have never laughed so much in my life or felt so much joy as when I was with Suraj.”
Family members have launched a GoFundMe campaign to honor Mahadeva. Donations can be made here.