As the mother of slain Chicago Police Officer Areanah Preston stepped to the podium at a Far South Side church on Wednesday, she spoke words of hope as she invoked her daughter’s spirit.
“In this tragic situation, my family and I feel triumph,” she told the crowd at Trinity United Church of Christ.
“We feel grace. We feel the love. We feel the hugs. And most importantly, we feel God’s presence over us. There is a presence of Aréanah’s presence saying, keep going, momma. You always wanted to be like me.”
Mhoon said she now plans “to lead, love and be just like you — brave and bold with a warm spirit and a contagious smile.”
Preston was fatally wounded early May 6 when she exchanged gunfire with a group of robbers who approached her as she returned home from work still wearing her police uniform.
Though she was off duty at the time, Preston’s slaying is being considered a line-of-duty death.
After four teenagers were charged in the killing last week and denied bail, Mhoon said she “felt sorry” because “nobody told them you were loved, nobody told them you can do anything.”
On Wednesday, Mhoon remained hopeful as she remembered her daughter as a “kid full of life, dreams, big goals and [who] wanted to make major changes.”
“Death is only a tragic thing if you have not lived. My baby lived,” she said to applause. “I pray for peace in homes. I pray for peace in our communities, and I pray for peace in my heart.
“Rest peacefully, my sweet baby. Momma has it from here.”
‘You have set an incredible example for us’
Preston’s sister, Amyrah, broke down as she spoke, her twin sister’s arms wrapped around her waist.
“We’ve been trying to find the right words to express our emotions, but it has been hard,” she said. “Knowing you your whole life and seeing how many people you’ve touched in so many ways or another speaks volumes, volumes on how welcoming and endearing you’ve been to so many people.”
She let the packed church into their inner sanctum, sharing an intimate side of the slain officer.
“You would come home to us and argue over where your favorite makeup brush was,” she recalled. “Aside from the arguments we had, we had even more fun times, like when [another sister] had a summer party a few months ago and all you did was dance and tell silly jokes.”
Amyrah Preston dwelled on her last conversation with Preston about posting the officer’s new graduation photos online.
“You told me you loved me,” she said. “I told you to tell the world. My exact words were: Don’t tell me, tell them. So here I am telling everyone that we love you … and you’re an amazing big sister and best friend.
“You have set an incredible example for us.”
Colleagues rise to show support
Former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Mayor Brandon Johnson and interim Police Supt. Fred Waller were among the mourners who gathered outside the church as Preston’s white casket arrived in a hearse, draped in the city’s flag.
Cries from the family pierced through the sound of bagpipes.
Once inside, those who served with slain Chicago Police Officer Aréanah Preston rose to their feet to “show her how much we loved her.”
“She wasn’t alone with us,” said Calumet District Cmdr. Tyrone Pendarvis. “We looked out for her. … We look out for each other. We are a family.”
The officers wore yellow ribbons, Preston’s favorite color.
Pendarvis told the packed church that Preston immediately made herself known when she reported to his district.
“I want you to know this name with this face. That’s who I am,’ ” Pendarvis recalled. “I was [taken] off guard because I’m like, hey, I’m the commander. But she put me right in my place and let me know, hey, you’re just the commander but I am Aréanah.”
Preston made fast friends at the district and bonded with a group of colleagues that dubbed themselves “the Fab Five,” according to Jashaya Turnage, a civilian employee.
Flanked at the church’s podium by the three other women, Turnage said the district station “would light up” when Preston arrived and embraced everyone with a hug. Turnage said that earned Preston the nickname “Princess P,” though the “Fab Five” had their own moniker for her.
“She was the little sister who often times acted as the big sister,” Turnage said. “She would often joke with us and say she was hanging out with her aunties. In response, we gave her the nickname Little Baby.”
Turnage described Preston as a “firecracker” who was “resilient, courageous, embodied integrity and most certainly, she demanded her respect.”
Preston had a knack for lifting peoples’ spirits and was well known for her singing, dancing and wisecracking.
“In just 24 short years, she accomplished so much,” Turnage said. “Though she was wise beyond her years, she lived her life fearlessly and did everything she wanted to do, including continuing her plans to further her education.”
A personal connection to the former top cop
Eric Carter, who retired Monday as the city’s acting police superintendent, described Preston as “sincere, thoughtful, witty, well-organized and goal-oriented and outgoing and definitely a ray of sunshine.”
“She brightened every room she walked into and put a smile on everyone’s face,” Carter said. “Her presence was unmistakable, and she was unforgettable. Aréanah was a daughter of Chicago, born and raised right here in this city.”
Carter noted that Preston and his daughter were both members of the cheerleading team at UIC College Prep, where his wife served as their assistant coach. Preston was the team’s “flyer,” he said, performing “terrific, terrifying” stunts and positioning herself on the top of the pyramid.
Preston then attended Illinois State University, graduating a year early with a degree in criminal justice that “was cemented by her passion for public safety and public service,” Carter said.
“She wanted to be a voice for the voiceless,” Carter said. “But when Aréanah told her mother Dionne about her plans to become a Chicago police officer, she was definitely concerned — and understandably so.”
Though Preston’s mother worried about her daughter’s small stature, Carter said she knew “there was a way about Aréanah.”
“When she set her mind to something, she never gave up, and she never gave in,” Carter said. “She set goals, and she achieved every one of them.”
Over the weekend, Preston’s mother accepted her posthumous master’s degree in jurisprudence from Loyola University of Chicago. Carter said she had her sights on joining the FBI.
“Her application got accepted, and she was just waiting on her final interview when this tragic incident happened,” he said. “Aréanah always knew she could make a difference, and that she would make a difference.”
‘The importance of doing the right thing’
Mayor Johnson said Preston “knew that laying her life down, even for those who do not always value life … is the exemplary example of righteousness.”
“Aréanah devoted her life to the very principles of justice and peace,” Johnson said. “And Aréanah obviously walked uprightly in her life, and so now she gets to rest in that peace.”
The city “has so much to do to restore hope and promise,” Johnson said, but Preston’s life “teaches us the importance of doing the right thing, especially when it’s hard.”
“Though her watch has ended, her dedication to justice and her commitment to serving this city will live forever,” he said. “God thank you for the gift of Aréanah. God thank you for the gift of life.”
Lightfoot called Preston “a bright and blazing star” while she reflected on the funerals she has attended for “heroes who are felled in the line of duty and taken from their families and from us way too soon.”
Preston’s killing happened a little more than two months after Officer Andrés Mauricio Vásquez-Lasso was fatally shot near a Gage Park elementary school as he pursued an armed suspect who had threatened his girlfriend. Steven Montano, 19, is charged in the killing and is being held without bail.
“It never gets easier,” she said of consoling the families of fallen officers. “Today, though, feels particularly painful. Officer Areanah Preston, 24 years young, many of us have thought she was just a baby. But in fact, as you’ve heard and you’ve read, Officer Preston was by all accounts wise beyond her years.”
Lightfoot said she was touched by college newspaper articles that showed Preston had gone “out of her way” to learn from formerly incarcerated people and traveled to Germany and Poland “to study genocide through a criminology lens before applying to join CPD.”
Preston was “exactly the person we want to recruit” for the city’s police department, noted Lightfoot, adding that she was “passionate, energetic, bold, inquisitive, interested in understanding and attacking the root causes of violence and crime.”
“Areanah Preston was the future of the Chicago Police Department,” she said, “And we feel like we have been robbed of that future today.”
The former mayor said the city must now “grapple with the reality of how and by whom Officer Preston’s life was taken,” pointing to the young suspects charged in the killing.
“If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in the past four years, it’s that if fixing this broken criminal justice system were simple we would’ve done it immediately,” she said. “It is nuanced and multifaceted and requires all of us to throw our shoulders behind this same wheel at the same time to begin moving in the right direction.
“And may this tragedy renew our resolve to do just that.”