By Bob Uphues
A full week after 33-year-old Michael Smith, who grew up in Oak Park, was gunned down while sitting in his car outside his Brookfield home, police are still releasing few details about his death while continuing to actively investigate the circumstances surrounding it.
Brookfield Deputy Police Chief Edward Petrak said 20 investigators, including members of the west suburban Major Case Assistance Team (MCAT), were working the case Monday. But he had no new details about what appears to have been a targeted killing.
What police have confirmed is that Smith, an Oak Park and River Forest High School graduate, had pulled his silver Mercury to the curb in front of his residence in the 3700 block of Forest Avenue just after noon on Jan. 27. His car was facing north.
Before he could exit the car, a blue four-door hatchback, heading south, pulled up next to Smith's car. Someone inside that vehicle then reportedly fired eight or nine rounds at point-blank range into the driver's side window of Smith's car, killing him.
A witness, who declined to give his name, said he was working in his garage at the time of incident. The witness stated he heard nine gunshots in fast succession.
"At first I thought the shots were behind me and I covered my head," the man said. "Then I jumped up and all I could see was the back of a car going [south on Forest Avenue]."
The witness said he ran over to Smith's vehicle to check on him, "but he was gone." The man said he believed two people were inside the blue vehicle, though he didn't get a good look at them.
"I was in so much shock, I really wasn't paying attention to that," the man said. "It's scary as hell, I know that."
Police briefly placed nearby schools, including Riverside-Brookfield High School, S.E. Gross Middle School, Hollywood School and St. Paul Lutheran School into soft lockdown, but police could not immediately locate the suspect vehicle.
Two days after the shooting, on Jan. 29, police reported finding the vehicle. However, Brookfield Police Chief James Episcopo declined to provide details about where the vehicle was located or even its make and model.
He did confirm that investigators from the Illinois State Police processed the vehicle for evidence.
Episcopo also declined to confirm or deny reports the Landmark received from multiple independent sources that on the morning Smith was killed, he had testified in a criminal case at a Chicago courthouse.
"We're following up on all of our leads and tracking his whereabouts for the day," Episcopo said. "But we're certainly not in a position to confirm that or not."
Smith was a security guard, working as mobile supervisor for Des Plaines-based Advanced Security Solutions Inc. The company is a private firm that provides security services for nightclubs, events, celebrities and VIPs and emergencies, among others.
Police are keeping such a tight lid on its investigation that not even the details of Smith's funeral are being made public.
Meanwhile, friends, co-workers and acquaintances paid their respects to the man many knew as "Big Mike," who left behind a wife and young son. Many also contributed thousands of dollars to a GoFundMe account established by Smith's sister-in-law, Sara Martinez, to help Smith's family. By Tuesday morning the fund, which can be found at www.gofundme.com/jngz9t4s, had raised nearly $27,000.
Contributing $1,000 to the fund was Andrew Zimmern, celebrity chef and host of the cable TV program Bizarre Foods, for whom Smith served as a bodyguard, according to a Facebook post by Zimmern on Jan. 31.
"We talked a lot about his work, making enemies in a city where some people have short fuses and others have long memories," Zimmern wrote. "He put himself between trouble and my son last time I was with him in November."
Also on Jan. 31, Burger Antics, a Brookfield restaurant, hosted an all-day fundraiser for the family, donating $1 for every burger sold that day. According to the restaurant's Facebook page, the event raised about $1,200.
Smith was raised in Oak Park and graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School. According to neighbors who knew him growing up, an affable personality belied his size.
"His mom referred to him as her gentle giant," said Doug Deuchler, who lived next door to the Smith family for 25 years and said he and his wife were "like his aunt and uncle."
Deuchler said he had dinner with Smith and his wife and son last fall, "and they were the dearest, happiest family."
Sue Fleming, who also lived on the same block for many years, recalled Smith was a former Cub Scout and a big Chicago White Sox and Chicago Blackhawks fan. Smith was outgoing, had an artistic streak and liked to tell jokes, she said.
"He was just a regular kid," Fleming said. "That's why it's, like, how did this happen?"
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