Katherine Burns remembers her son, Telkia, a 33-year-old Navy veteran who was killed during a robbery attempt in the vestibule of his building. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune)

A 33-year-old Chicago State University student was preparing for his last year of studies when he was shot and killed Sunday afternoon during a robbery at his apartment building in the South Chicago neighborhood, authorities said.

The gunman shot Telkia Burns in the right temple about 3 p.m. and fled with his money and house keys, according to Chicago police.

"I'm just a mother without a child," Katherine Burns said. "That's all."

An 18-year-old suspect was in custody over the shooting in the 9100 block of South Commercial Avenue but had not been charged, according to police. When the robber tried to go through Burns' pockets, Burns fought back and was shot in the head, police said.

Burns was a Navy veteran who learned to speak Japanese while stationed in Japan for three years, according to Milton Thornton, who said he served in the military with him. Burns was studying community health at Chicago State through a Veterans Affairs work-study program, Thornton said.

Burns had two sons, ages 7 and 8, who live in Indiana. He just visited his oldest son last weekend after not seeing him for years, Burns' mother said.

Thornton said he met Burns at a Navy Reserve Center after they were discharged in 2004.

"This is going to be hard for (his kids)," Thornton said.

After Burns was laid off from a welding job, Thornton said they talked about taking advantage of the GI Bill and Burns decided to return to school.

Burns was studying community health but should have gone to culinary school, Thornton said.

"He loved to cook. That was probably one of his favorite things to do," Thornton said. "He would cook anything. … He would try exotic foods. He made bison chili one time."

Katherine Burns said she will miss being able to walk down to the corner to see her son.

"He brought me a water lily in a vase last weekend," she said. "He was over at my place so much, I used to say, 'Don't you have your own house?'"

Although devastated by the loss of her son, she said she can forgive the gunman.

"I can't heal if I harbor bad feelings and I just have to be at peace, because we all got to pass, we all got a date," she said, "But it just shouldn't have been that way, and the poor family (of the gunman) is going to suffer too."

His mother said she is working with Veterans Affairs to arrange services.

ehirst@tribune.com  | Twitter: @ellenjeanhirst

kachen@tribune.com | Twitter: @ckaren15