Masked Gunman Kills 73-Year-Old Man Walking his Dogs in Rogers Park

(Tribune) The gunman was dressed in black and wearing a ski mask as he walked through Rogers Park on a sunny fall Sunday morning.

He passed a car, glanced inside and kept walking in the 1400 block of West Sherwin Avenue around 10 a.m., a witness told police. Minutes later, a single shot rang out down the street.

The witness got out of his car and saw Willard D. Watts, 73, lying on the sidewalk with a wound to his head, according to police. He died just steps from his home, where he had lived with his husband and his mother-in-law.

A neighbor, Lynda Kaplan, said she was sitting in her first-floor apartment sipping coffee with her brother when she heard the shot and ran outside.

“I saw him facedown on the ground,” said Kaplan, 50. “We see each other every day. He’s out with his two older dogs, walking them, and he’s a frail older man. What could anybody possibly have against him?”

Neighbors across the street held on to Watts’ dogs as police worked the scene.

Officials initially said they were investigating the shooting as a possible robbery, but a police report notes that detectives found his iPhone on the scene.

Another witness told police that he was leaving a friend’s house nearby and was heading to his car when he heard a shot, according to the report. He saw the gunman, still wearing the mask, walking slowly away on Sherman, then running down an alley along CTA tracks east of Greenview Avenue.

Police reported no one in custody Monday.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, whose district includes Rogers Park, denounced the violence in a statement on Facebook. She also referenced the recent shooting deaths of a violence prevention advocate and a grad student who had recently moved to Chicago.

“Each of these senseless deaths leaves a hole in the fabric of our community,” she wrote. “I grieve with my neighbors & resolve to continue to push for smarter policies & solutions.”

Investigators were reviewing surveillance video, Ald. Joe Moore, 49th, posted in a neighborhood Facebook group. He said he was outside cleaning his front gate, just a block and a half away, when the shooting happened.

A neighbor, Fallon Sowers, said she and Watts would chat about their dogs. “We always joked that our dogs looked alike, like they could be in the same litter,” said Sowers, a 35-year-old social worker who also has a small, tan dog.

“He seemed very gentle, very kind, and it’s just heart-wrenching,” she added.

Sowers said people on the block have been putting flowers at the spot where he was shot, on the sidewalk outside a courtyard apartment building.

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