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Sheriff's officer shot dead coming to aid of daughter, her boyfriend

Sunday, December 22, 2013
Chicago Tribune
by Kate Thayer, Adam Serge & Patrick Svitek

The day after her father, Cook County Sheriff’s Investigator Cuauhtemoc Estrada, was gunned down protecting her, Christina Estrada clutched a gold pendant shaped like his badge that she wears around her neck.

“Now he's not going to be able to see me walk across the stage when I graduate college,” said Christina Estrada, 19. “It just seems so unreal.”

Estrada, who was off-duty at the time, was fatally shot Friday night protecting his daughter and her boyfriend from armed robbers outside a holiday party he was hosting at a Bellwood Veterans of Foreign Wars hall. The attack occurred less than two miles from the Maywood block where Christina Estrada and many family members live.

Christina Estrada cried outside a home on that block Saturday, recalling how her father gave her and her sister the Sheriff’s badge pendants as birthday presents. She said she never takes hers off.

The teen described her dad, a former Marine and near 20-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, as a devoted father. “He was always there for us.”

Other family and friends were seen gathering Saturday in the blue-collar neighborhood in Maywood, weeping, hugging and comforting one another. They described Estrada as a dedicated family man who died doing what he did best – protecting his family and community.

“He fought hard to clean up his own streets,” said Patty Santamaria, Estrada’s former sister-in-law. He protected “not just his own family but his entire community.”

Around 7:30 p.m. Friday, Estrada saw two people in ski masks and hoodies trying to rob his daughter and her boyfriend at gunpoint in the VFW hall parking lot at 2817 St. Charles Road as they carried food from a car, according to authorities and relatives.

Trying to thwart the robbers, Estrada reached for his gun and was shot in the chest, said Andre Harvey, Bellwood's director of public safety.

Estrada, 50, was rushed to Loyola University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 8:08 p.m. A procession of law enforcement officers accompanied Estrada's body to the Cook County medical examiner's office.

Sheriff Tom Dart told WGN-TV early Saturday morning that investigators were following several leads but his office released no details. Bellwood police did not return phone calls Saturday afternoon.

Estrada, known as “Temo,” or simply by his last name to friends and family, had four children and three grandchildren. Prior to his work as an investigator, he had served in Desert Storm, Santamaria said.

Although he was divorced from Santamaria's sister, Estrada remained close with his ex-wife and her family, Santamaria said. The couple lived across the street from each other and several other relatives lived on the block, she said.

Santamaria recalled how Estrada would often start the cars of family members on the block, or deliver coffee and doughnuts in the morning. He would often organize block parties for his close-knit family and friends. Friday’s party was one of the gatherings he planned every year, according to family.

“It's just so devastating,” Santamaria said. “So tragic.”

When Estrada was shot, Santamaria was on her way to the party with his youngest daughter, who is 13.

“I had to tell her,” she said.

Dart said he had worked with Estrada for years. “He was an amazing person, funny, caring, thoughtful. [It's] just horrifically tragic,” Dart said. “I mean, everyone's just stunned.”

Estrada “was an exceptional investigator, but an even better man who loved his family, his friends and his country,” Sheriff’s spokesman Ben Breit said in a statement. “Quite simply, he made this world a better place and will be missed by all whose lives he touched.”

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