More than 100 loved ones and community members let go of different colored and shaped balloons in the backyard of an elementary school in Calumet Heights to celebrate the “heavenly” birthday of fallen Chicago police Officer Aréanah Preston, who would have been 25 Wednesday.

The celebration took place at Robert A. Black Magnet Elementary School, of which Preston was an alumni. Over the course of the gathering, there was a group prayer, song and a balloon and butterfly release right around 6:30 p.m. The breezy air was shuffling around gold star balloons and some “2″ and “5″ balloons while also creating some difficulty for the just-released butterflies to stay in flight. Preston’s family was joined by all those in attendance to sing happy birthday. A birthday cake, which had a picture of Preston donning a graduation cap and gown, read “Happy Heavenly 25th Birthday Aréanah.”

“Aré, we love you,” Dionne Mhoon, Preston’s mother, said. “We miss you, and like mama always says, ‘I got it from here.’ You know what I mean. I got it from here.”

The gathering was also an effort to spread awareness and raise funds for Peace for Preston, a foundation started by Preston’s family the day after she died. Shirts and buttons were on sale featuring Preston’s name and face. The foundation’s goal is to raise enough money to ultimately start a community center for youth on the South Side.

On May 6, Preston was shot and killed when three assailants jumped out of a sedan and ran toward Preston as she walked from her car to her Avalon Park home after a late-night shift, according to Cook County prosecutors. Video footage cited by prosecutors shows a muzzle flash and Preston falling to the ground.

Four teens arrested two days after the fatal shooting are being held without bond. Prosecutors charged them with murder and several other felonies, including robbery and arson, alleging the group had earlier gone on a violent crime spree. Their next court appearance is scheduled for June 15.

Preston was wearing her police uniform when she was attacked. The Chicago Police Department ruled her killing was a line-of-duty death, a decision that will entitle her family to greater financial support.

Violinist Windy Indie performs as family, friends and police officers gather at Robert A. Black Magnet School in Chicago on June 7, 2023, for a birthday celebration for slain Chicago police Officer Aréanah Preston.
Family, friends and police officers release butterflies at Robert A. Black Magnet School in Chicago on during a birthday celebration for slain Chicago police Officer Aréanah Preston.

She has been remembered by those who knew her as a hardworking woman, a sweet person and a humble yet sophisticated soul with a bright future ahead of her.

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Mhoon said Preston was the oldest of her three daughters. Her other two daughters are twin girls, Amira and Amiyah Preston, 23. She also is stepmother of three daughters through her marriage to husband of 10 years and partner for 17, Terrance Mhoon, who said the family has lived in Avalon Park nearly 10 years.

Her mother said the support from the community has been “awesome” and added that she and her family are able to put so much of their time and effort into making the new community center a reality because of the people around them.

“Everybody thinks their child is special,” Mhoon said. “Everybody. It’s just amazing, my little child, other people thought she was special. It’s overwhelming sometimes, but I’m grateful for it. I’m thankful for it, and we’re going full speed ahead in her name.”

Preston was close to earning a master’s degree in child and family law from Loyola University Chicago and had previously studied criminal justice and law enforcement administration at Illinois State University as an undergraduate.

The young officer, who had only been with the department for three years, was assigned to the Calumet District station on the Far South Side. An ISU professor who knew Preston as an undergraduate said she was “passionate about making a difference,” and doing so “boots on the ground” in Chicago.

Preston’s academic interests and passions reflected that even early on in school, as she participated in various field trips, panels and classes on topics that ranged from restorative justice and trauma in incarcerated populations to diversity in law enforcement and police brutality.

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