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Stray bullet claims life of ‘happy, hilarious’ woman as she sat in her home

By William Lee and Hannah Leone • Aug 16, 2018 at 1:00 PM

CHICAGO — Longtime neighbors on Paulina Street in Chicago’s West Englewood neighborhood were used to seeing Estelle “Stella” Smith strutting up the street, calling out to residents, sharing laughs and wise words with families she’d grown up with.

But the family lost their bungalow in 2010, and Smith moved her family around the corner. Still, she remained a regular presence on the block, catching up with neighbors and swapping stories and banter.

Smith, 44, was sitting on a couch in her home when shots were fired outside around 8:40 p.m. Tuesday, according to Chicago police.

One of the bullets pierced the front door and hit Smith in the abdomen. She was taken to the University of Chicago Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.

“I just saw her yesterday,” friend and neighbor Tonita Matthews said Wednesday, across from Smith’s former family home.

Matthews had been a hairstylist for Smith and had known her for about a decade. She remembered her as a funny, insightful, wonderfully foul-mouthed woman whose acerbic tongue could just as easily brighten your day.

“She was a happy, hilarious person,” Matthews, 44, remembered. “She was just a lovable person.”

Several other neighbors echoed Matthews, describing her as being from one of the vanishing breed of families who grew up in West Englewood when it was still held stable families. But neighbors speaking with the Tribune described a new wave of young faces and renewed gang beefs that have flared up in neighboring blocks.

Police told the Chicago Tribune that a relative, not Smith, was believed to be the intended target of the shots.

Outside the hospital, relatives said she was a beloved grandmother and source of strength in the family. They lined the sidewalk outside the emergency room, leaning against the railing and sitting on the curb.

“She was a very loving, outspoken person,” Smith’s daughter Tierra Smith told the Tribune hours later during a brief telephone interview.

Still processing the death of her mother, she declined to discuss details of the shooting, but said she hoped people remembered the woman for her warmth toward others.

Smith was one of two South Side woman injured by errant bullets Tuesday night.

Five hours after Smith was shot, an 80-year-old woman was hit by gunfire as she slept in a second-floor bedroom of a home on the Far South Side, according to police.

Someone fired shots outside the home, and a bullet struck her in the head, police said. She was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where she was stabilized and listed in serious condition.

Police said they suspect a relative recently paroled from jail was the target.

Neighbors gathered outside the white two-story home as police talked to people inside the crime scene. Several men said they were related to the woman but had nothing to say.

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©2018 Chicago Tribune

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