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Navy servicewoman allegedly killed by ex-boyfriend had made video about domestic violence

Claire VanLandingham appeared in a video that encouraged viewers to support a Take Back the Night march against domestic violence and sexual abuse.

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By ROBERT MCCOPPIN | Chicago Tribune | Published: January 10, 2018

CHICAGO (Tribune News Service) — A woman who was gunned down last week in a suspected domestic violence attack near Chicago had made a video two years ago to raise awareness of abusive relationships.

Claire VanLandingham, a 27-year-old Navy officer and dentist, was fatally shot the morning of Jan. 3 in the downtown of the affluent North Shore suburb of Lake Forest, in what police believe was a murder-suicide committed by her ex-boyfriend.

In March 2016, when she was a dental student at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, VanLandingham appeared in a video calling on viewers to support a Take Back the Night march against domestic violence and sexual abuse.

In the video, VanLandingham spoke of how common domestic abuse had become and said, “In a society so violent, have you ever been afraid to walk alone at night? We don’t think you should have to.”

“We seek to create healthier relationships and safe communities,” she said. “To our neighbors in Louisville, we invite you to join us … for our Take Back the Night march and rally where we will rise up as a community and say that violence against anyone is unacceptable.”

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The message was sponsored by the university chapter of the American Association for Women Dentists, which VanLandingham served as vice president.

The group was one of many student organizations that promoted the event.

Puja Sangoi, a former fellow dental student, said she knew VanLandingham by serving with her in the association, and that everyone who knew her at the school was shocked by the shooting.

“She was a complete sweetheart and probably one of the kindest and most genuine souls,” she said. “It is a very sad irony that Claire was actively speaking up against domestic violence and ended up becoming a victim of it, too.”

VanLandingham had not previously been a victim of domestic violence, as far as Sangoi knew, but she was a leader in the association and felt strongly enough about the cause to make the video.

The Lake County Major Crimes Task Force was still investigating the case this week. The man who allegedly shot VanLandingham outside a Dunkin’ Donuts before shooting himself was Ryan Zike, 33, of Louisville. He had met VanLandingham when she was a student and he was a recreation supervisor for Louisville’s parks and recreation department, making about $42,000, according to online city data.

After VanLandingham, a lieutenant in the Navy, graduated with her dental degree last spring, she started working last summer at Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago, providing dental care to recruits at nearby Naval Station Great Lakes, the Navy confirmed. She lived in an apartment above a business in Lake Forest.

Zike followed her to Lake Forest, where they shared an apartment before they broke up in October and he returned to Louisville, Deputy Chief Robert Copeland of the Lake Forest Police Department said Tuesday.

“For whatever reason, he was having a hard time adjusting to it,” Copeland said. Zike drove back to Lake Forest apparently to confront VanLandingham, Copeland said.

Police were not aware of Zike having any prior criminal record, and VanLandingham had not lodged any complaints of violence by him, Copeland said.

Zike appears to have listed himself on Facebook as being in a relationship with VanLandingham in March 2017, and posted a picture of her graduating. Officials confirmed that Zike graduated from Eastern Kentucky University.

Zike was hired in September to work as a naturalist for the Park District of Highland Park but resigned a month later, shortly after his relationship ended, officials said.

A murder-suicide seems to be the best working theory until the coroner makes a final decision, Copeland said.

“She was at the start of an upward career. He was not,” Copeland said. “I have a feeling he was in a college relationship she didn’t want to take into adult life. Somehow, he latched onto her and followed her out of college.”

Investigators were going through the cellphones of both victims to try to determine what exactly happened.

VanLandingham volunteered at the First Unitarian Church of Louisville, did free dental work for the poor there and in a trip abroad, and taught religion classes, a church official said.

“For all intents and purposes,” Copeland said, “she was a great person. Unfortunately, he couldn’t move past it once she broke up with him.”

VanLandingham had planned on getting a master’s degree in public health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Sangoi said. One of her goals was to build a non-profit dental clinic.

“It was just her passion to bring dental care to those who needed it the most and could not afford it,” Sangoi said. “She was all about wanting to serve the needy.”

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©2018 Chicago Tribune
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