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Hundreds gather at Bridgeport church for Cmdr. Paul Bauer's wake

Friday, February 16, 2018
Chicago Tribune
by Ese Olumhense and Gregory Pratt

Hundreds of people formed a line three blocks long outside a Bridgeport church Friday for the wake of police Cmdr. Paul Bauer, who was shot and killed earlier in the week while confronting a suspect in the Loop.

The mourners came from all sides of Chicago and the state, driving from as far as Bloomington and Wisconsin to pay their respects. Federal agents, including U.S. marshals and customs officials, stood in the cold outside Nativity of Our Lord Roman Catholic Church. Groups of officers from suburbs including Cicero, Waukegan, Park Ridge, Des Plaines and Oak Brook mingled with Chicago cops of all ranks.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel came early, as did former Mayor Richard M. Daley. Also arriving as the wake got underway were two other Daley brothers, Cook County Commissioner John Daley and former White House chief of staff William Daley. Former police Superintendent Garry McCarthy petted a police horse on the backside while greeting an officer outside the church.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White said he knew Bauer and considered him a friend. The fact that Bauer took it upon himself to join in pursuit of a suspect shows how deeply Bauer took his responsibility to keep the public safe, he said.

“We lost a hero,” White said.

Inside the church, Bauer’s wife, Erin, his 13-year-old daughter, Grace, and his father and sisters greeted the stream of well-wishers who filed by the coffin. Flowers lined the church and family photos were on display.

Bauer, 53, was shot six times Tuesday near the Thompson Center downtown. His alleged killer, Shomari Legghette, is being held without bond.

A 31-year veteran of the department, Bauer had worked all over the city, including a stint with the department’s elite mounted patrol unit. He was most recently commander of the Near North District, and was the highest-ranking officer killed on the job in decades.

He was downtown when he heard over his radio that officers working a drug detail on Lower Wacker Drive had confronted a suspect who took off running. Bauer apparently confronted a man who matched the suspect’s description, leading to a tussle and the fatal shooting.

Chicago police Deputy Chief Kevin Ryan, who was Bauer’s boss, said he could always count on him “to do the right thing for the right reasons.”

“He never broke the public trust,” Ryan said.

Ryan said “guys like Paul” represent “the real police.”

“It’s not always glamorous, but every day he made a difference for somebody,” Ryan said.

Earlier Friday, dozens of police officers stood outside the doors of the church. The officers, along with members of the Chicago Fire Department, lined up in carefully ordered rows flanking the entrance of the building. Fifteen mounted officers lined up across the street. All wore buttons on their coats bearing a photograph of Bauer.

The silver hearse containing Bauer's body arrived at the church just before 12:30 p.m., led by four officers on foot. Swathed in a Chicago flag, the copper-colored casket was carried into the church by eight pallbearers, all from the Police Department, as those assembled outside saluted.

Almost every home on the block displayed a blue ribbon in solidarity. A woman walking home told every officer she came across, “I’m sorry for your loss,” including the officers in line outside her steps.

Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson came out afterward to talk to reporters. He thanked the public for its support during what he said was a “very difficult” time.

“The healing process starts today for CPD and the family,” he said.

Johnson encouraged those attending the parade to be held in Bauer’s honor Saturday to wear blue in support of the late officer’s family.

As the skies darkened late Friday afternoon, the line inching into the church in Bridgeport numbered about 1,000 people at any given time. Those who braved the cold repeatedly expressed their respect for the police and Bauer.

One officer from Palatine said Bauer’s death reverberated beyond Chicago and called it a “national tragedy.”

Four members of the Milwaukee Police Department’s honor guard had driven south to pay their respects. “It’s a brotherhood,” said Elvis Lock, one of the Wisconsin officers. “We consider this our family.”

Retired Chicago police officer Anthony Ortiz said he didn’t know Bauer particularly well except by reputation. But he felt he needed to come out and show respect for his fellow officer, and the job.

“Always a good man. Always a good policeman,” Ortiz said. “Can’t ask for more than that.”

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