Family mourns dancer fatally shot near mother’s home: ‘I never thought I’d have to bury my son’

Jacqueline Coles holds up high school photos of her son James Coles at her home in Morgan Park Tuesday. James, 32, was killed in an Aug. 21 drive-by shooting.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

As James Coles left his mother’s Morgan Park home to see a friend, Jacqueline Coles grabbed his wrist and told him to be careful.

When Jacqueline went to lock the door, her son came back and told her he’d be OK. Both said “I love you,” and James left.

Hours later, Jacqueline stood outside Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn as doctors worked in vain to save her badly wounded son.

“I needed to hold my son one more time, hold his hand, let him feel my heartbeat,” Jacqueline said through tears. “Let him know your momma is right here.”

“I was praying to God he just got grazed or hit in the leg or the hand,” Jacqueline told the Sun-Times. “But when I got there and they wouldn’t let me in, I knew my son was gone.”

Officers were responding to a ShotSpotter alert in the 11600 block of South Wallace Street about 12:50 a.m. Aug. 21 when they found James lying face down in the street next to a 2008 silver Toyota, according to police reports obtained by the Sun-Times.

He had been with a group of people when a black Durango approached and someone inside opened fire, according to the reports.

James, 32, shot in his right armpit and back, was pronounced dead less than an hour later.

A gun was recovered at the scene, according to the police reports. Nearly three weeks later, no one is reported in custody.

Devoted dad who loved dancing

Every year, James took a week off from work to accompany his kids on their first day at school. He had three children — a 13-year-old girl, an 11-year-old boy and a 1-year-old boy. He was engaged, and his wedding was planned for August 2025.

The night of the shooting, he and his mother discussed plans for his daughter’s upcoming eighth grade graduation.

“He loved his family, he cared about other people, and he was loyal to everybody,” Jacqueline said. James — a middle child among eight siblings — was a happy person who was passionate about dancing.

During his junior year of high school, his interest in dancing intensified. He specialized in footwork, a type of house dancing, and joined a group called “Break Through Squad.”

James competed in various contests and aspired to teach younger kids and teens how to dance as a way to keep them out of trouble, Jacqueline said.

Jacqueline Coles stands outside her home Tuesday in Morgan Park. Her son James Coles was killed in a shooting Aug. 21 in West Pullman.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

James is among more than 400 people who have been killed in Chicago this year, according to data kept by the Sun-Times.

The toll is a measure of the work facing groups like the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, which reaches out to those like Jacqueline’s family impacted by gun violence.

“We respond to victims who are affected by gun violence directly … and support their family members because they are affected indirectly,” said Les Jenkins, victim services manager at the institute. “We understand that gun violence doesn’t just affect the individual, but it affects everyone connected to the incident itself.”

Jenkins, who has been with the institute for over three years and has been involved in community violence work for over 15 years, cited the effectiveness of the city’s Emergency Supplemental Victims’ Fund.

The pilot was launched by the city last December to financially help Chicago residents who have been shot, or family members who have lost a loved one to gun violence in West Garfield Park, East Garfield Park, Englewood, West Englewood or New City, according to the city’s website.

Eligible victims or next of kin work with an advocate to apply for funding. Applications are approved within a week, making up to $3,500 available for funeral expenses, basic needs and relocation.

“It helps them make a decision they often dread facing, but they don’t feel as much tension and stress while making it,” Jenkins said.

He emphasized the importance of “learning a person before you judge them.”

“If we have an opportunity, and we can move judgment out of the way … allow them to tell their story for what it is,” Jenkins said. “You might find a way to really help save a life.”

He encouraged Jacqueline to contact the group so she “gets the support she needs during this horrific time.”

“When all of the phone calls stop, when all of the visits stop, and all of the friends stop coming by, she has to learn how to manage that,” Jenkins said. “Grief comes in stages, but they don’t always come in the order that the stages [are] written out.”

James Coles and his youngest son.


Jacqueline said her anguish is mixed with memories of her son, a cheerful soul who enjoyed telling old jokes and making funny faces to lift spirits of those around him.

“It felt like something just grabbed my heart and just squeezed it real, real hard,” Jacqueline said. “I know things happen but I never thought I’d have to bury my son.”

Her favorite memory ofJames is from roughly two decades ago as he danced across the living room floor, smiling and laughing with his mother.

She remembers him saying, “One day, momma, I’m going to be a famous dancer and you’re going to look back and say ‘My son did it.’”

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