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Family, friends mourn police officer

Friday, May 21, 2010
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Police have arrested a fourth suspect in the death of Officer Thomas Wortham IV, who was shot during an apparent robbery attempt in Chatham.

Wortham, 30, who recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, was visiting his parents in the 8400-block of South King Drive in the Chatham neighborhood around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday when four men allegedly tried to steal his new motorcycle. He was shot to death.

The Chicago Tribune reports the shooting began as a game of dare among friends to see who could rob someone at gunpoint first.

On Friday, a purple and black bunting was on display at the Chicago Police Department's District 7 in memory of the fallen officer.

As the shooting unfolded Wednesday night, Wortham's father, a retired Chicago police officer, fired at the suspects, killing 20-year-old suspect Brian Floyd and injuring another suspect who was later hospitalized. Two other suspects got away but one later turned himself in and the fourth suspect was arrested Thursday night. Police say he was apprehended during a traffic stop and was found ducking and hiding in his car.

"[Wortham] was approached by several individuals in the apparent robbery attempt. There was an exchange of gunfire," said Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis. "Sadly, this three-year veteran of the department was killed. Two offenders were also shot."

Neighbors heard the chaos unfold outside the home.

"I called 911 at 11:27. Just prior to that, I was in the kitchen part of my house and heard 'pop, pop, pop,'" said neighbor Elliot Powell.

Wortham recently got the motorcycle after returning from his service in Iraq.

Neighbor Al Stewart saw Wortham's father just after the shooting.

"He just said he needed help - that he shot the two guys that tried to rob his son," said Stewart.

Police said they recovered the suspected getaway car, a Nissan, at 37th and Princeton Thursday morning.

Wortham was pronounced dead at 12:07 a.m. at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn. Officers led a procession past the hospital Thursday morning in remembrance.

Wortham had just gotten back from a second tour of duty in Iraq. He was single, did not have any children, and worked in the Englewood District. He was also a First Lieutenant in the Wisconsin National Guard.

Neighbors describe Wortham as a man and an officer who gave back to the community and cared about the neighborhood. He was the president of the advisory council for Nat King Cole Park, the popular park across the street from his childhood home on the South Side.

"So ironic, he can serve two tours of duty in Iraq, nobody gets him over there, not the Shiites, not the Sunnis," said Powell. "He comes back home, and just in the course of a few minutes, something like this happens."

The community group No Guns No Violence is offering a $2,000 reward.

"As far as I knew, he was very strict, wanted the youth to go in the right direction," said Andrew Holmes of No Guns No Violence.

Wortham's mother greeted a steady stream of friends, family and politicians who came to pay their respects at her Chatham home Thursday afternoon. The blue star in the window of his parents' home is a tribute to his military service.

"My heart goes out to the family. He's a fallen comrade. I share the family's pain. He's my brother in arms," said Staff Sgt. Antonio Preston.

Wortham was a graduate of Brother Rice High School and went on to the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater where he was part of the ROTC program. In 1999, he enlisted in the Wisconsin National Guard, and in 2006, he became an officer. He went on to serve two tours of duty overseas.

His neighbors are concerned about growing violence in the once-safe Chatham neighborhood. They say there have been three shootings near Nat King Cole Park in recent months

"We're seeing violence breeding violence, retaliation breeding retaliation, and it's causing disruption in our community," said Rev. Dr. Marc Robertson, a family friend.

Mayor Daley, speaking at another event Thursday, sent his condolences to the family and focused on the gun issue.

"If the person didn't have this [gun], it would have never happened. Access to guns in America: everybody can have guns, and doesn't matter who they are, and if they have a criminal record or not - they have access to guns and that is the most frustrating issue," said Daley.

In the meantime, Chicago police officers, with guns drawn, are guarding the parents' home and plan to do so for the forseeable future.

"It is a preventative measure to protect the family and demonstrate that the police department is going to be responsive with the use of force it needs when the time comes," said 20th Ward Ald. Willie Cochran.

A crowd gathered Thursday night to remember Wortham in the park he helped protect.

"You couldn't have asked for a more caring or better person. Please everyone, continue to pray for the family because this is just such a huge tragedy," said family friend Caira Woods.

"It's just a tragedy, a senseless criminal act to rob this city and this community of a very positive individual," said family friend Sgt. Edward Adams, Chicago Police.

Sergeant Adams served on Mayor Harold Washington's bodyguard detail with Wortham's father, who also helped launch an organization for African-American police officers.

"Worked on four other police murders in my career and none of 'em hit home because I knew him, know the family. It just hurts," said Adams.

Slain officer remembered as community leader

Thomas Wortham IV is being remembered not only for his service as a police officer and a soldier but also for his work as a leader in his community.

The black and purple bunting at the 7th District Thursday was an indication of the grief felt by Wortham's fellow officers.

Officer Wortham IV was the Chatham community's native son.

"He's been committed, his family has been committed to community work and betterment of the neighborhood," said neighbor Elliot Powell.

Sixth Ward Alderman Freddrenna Lyle has known Wortham and his family both personally and professionally for years and was hit hard by word of his death.

"We talk about rebuilding families. So we can't afford to lose any. And I think that is the biggest travesty, we lost one," said Lyle.

Wortham was active in the South Side community where three generations of his family had lived in the house his grandfather built.

Friends say the 30-year-old became president of the Cole Park Advisory Council after recent shootings there made it unsafe for neighborhood kids.

"Tough to talk the talk and walk the walk. He was a genuine individual," said Keith Tate of the Cole Park Advisory Council. "He meant what he said, and he said, 'I'm going to try and do what I can do to make this a better place for everybody.'"

There was also grief Thursday at Brother Rice High School, where the flag flew at half staff for the latest alumnus to be lost. The death of Wortham, a 1998 graduate who ran track and played soccer and football, comes almost a year after Officer Alejandro Valadez, a 2000 Brother Rice graduate and Chicago cop,was killed in the line of duty last June.

"Tom was the perfect example. He served his community, he served his country, his family. He lived life the right way. And to see him go so young is just an absolute shame," said Bob Alberts, Brother Rice High School.

Wortham had been with the Chicago Police Department for three years. He had been on furlough since returning from his latest military service.

Those who worked with him at the Englewood District say he was proud to be a cop and proud to serve his community.

The motorcycle community showed their support for Officer Wortham Thursday night. Dozens of bikers rode from the Washington Park field house to Wortham's police district.

The fallen officer was an avid motorcyclist and police say it was Worthham's bike the four gunmen were trying to steal.

"It's sad. He was minding his own business. Can't have new things then to have them taken away from you," said friend Jerome Frazier.

Family members who had recently traveled to Chicago to celebrate a soldier's homecoming are now planning his homegoing service.

"His family is deeply devastated. He is their only son. My heart goes out to his family," said Gordon Fleming, cousin.

Wortham served in Iraq as part of the National Guard and had just finished his last tour at the end of March. He is survived by his sister and his parents.

(Copyright ©2014 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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