With the Ashburn neighborhood draped in blue, Chicago police Officer Ella French was laid to rest Thursday morning with stories about her well-documented compassion and desire to protect others.
“We are only beginning to know her as you have known her over a lifetime,” Cardinal Blase Cupich of the Chicago Archdiocese told French’s family. “A woman with empathy for the sufferings of others, humble enough to know she could always improve and generous enough to the point of dedicating her life to making a difference in the world.”
Speaking before mourners that included Chicago police Superintendent David Brown, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago U.S. Attorney John Lausch and thousands of uniformed officers both inside and outside the church, Cupich recounted how French’s experience as a Cook County corrections officer helped her develop an empathy for others. He described her as an officer who took the time to listen to people — even those who were angry or disrespectful — to better understand them.
“Ella took the time to know others and connect with others on the common fragile humanity,” he said. “She understood that she, too, had more to learn.”
French, 29, and her partner Carlos Yanez Jr. were shot while conducting a traffic stop on three people in a vehicle just after 9 p.m. Aug. 7 in the Englewood neighborhood, police said. Her partner was seriously injured and remains hospitalized.
One of the suspects was also shot after at least one of the officers returned fire, according to police.
Cupich acknowledged the sorrow and anger of rank-and-file officers in the Chicago Police Department during the funeral, saying he stood with them and prayed for Yanez’s recovery. French’s death, he said, underscores the fears every law-enforcement family endures.
“We can only imagine how the tragic death of another officer in the line of duty impacts you as you take up the daunting challenge of providing peace and security on our streets,” he said. “Her senseless killing once again sharpens the gnawing anxiety you and your family members feel each day as you leave your home, wondering if you will return safely at the end of your shift.”
Prosecutors have charged two brothers in connection with the shooting. Emonte Morgan, 21, is accused of first-degree murder, attempted murder, and weapons charges. Eric Morgan, 22, faces weapons charges as well as a count of obstruction of justice.
Authorities allege that Emonte Morgan shot the officers, then handed the gun to his brother, who ran to a nearby yard where he was held by residents until police arrived.
Both brothers were on probation for separate cases at the time of the shooting. Emonte Morgan pleaded guilty to robbery in Cook County court last year, and Eric Morgan pleaded guilty to theft in Dane County, Wisconsin, records show.
Yanez was shot in the eye, brain and shoulder, according to a GoFundMe fundraiser organized by family. He is facing a long recovery and the possibility of a lifelong disability. The Tribune confirmed the veracity of the fundraiser with a spokesperson for the company.
In a video provided to the Tribune Wednesday by his sister, Yanez thanked people for their support, prayers and donations. He spoke softly in the video while laying in a hospital bed.
“I love you all,” he told supporters.
Cupich lamented the gun violence that plagues the city and called on Chicagoans to address its root causes.
“We all have responsibility in untying the cords of injustice that keeps many of our brothers and sisters bound in poverty and despair,” he said.
Praise for French’s police work has poured in from the community since her death, while the slaying ramped up tension between Lightfoot and rank-and-file police officers. In a widely reported incident, a group of officers turned their backs on Lightfoot when she visited the hospital on the night of the shooting.
Those animosities were reflected in an angry prayer offered by a Chicago police chaplain at Edison Park Fest over the weekend. As a line of uniformed Chicago police officers stood in front of the stage, the Rev. Dan Brandt, a Catholic priest, cursed unnamed elected officials and blamed them for the death of French and others, according to a video later posted on Facebook.
“Their lives were stolen by repeat offenders, people who should not be on the street,” Brandt said. “And damn our politicians. And damn our penalty system, our penal system. We need reform, friends.”
Brandt seemingly excluded Ald. Anthony Napolitano, 41st, a frequent and prolific Lightfoot critic, from his condemnation as he thanked God for the Northwest Side neighborhood’s “great alderman.” He also referred to Edison Park — which is overwhelmingly white and home to more than 1,000 police officers — as “almost like a Utopian neighborhood.”
The chaplain is helping celebrate the traditional funeral Mass, but did not deliver remarks. Although Police Superintendent David Brown and Lightfoot are in attendance, there’s no indication in the funeral program that either will speak.
French, who became an officer in 2018, is the first officer to be shot and killed in the line of duty during Lightfoot’s tenure.
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