CPD retires fallen officer's star

August 12, 2009 4:28:48 AM PDT
A fallen officer's police star was retired Tuesday during an emotional ceremony. Joseph Airhart died last fall, seven years after being shot while trying to arrest a bank robbery suspect. Airhart was a 19-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department. He earned a reputation as an outstanding officer and the respect of his colleagues.

On Tuesday, his admirers called him a true example of a hero.

"He was one hell of a police officer and a tremendous man," said a fellow officer.

It was with a mixture of sadness and pride that Joseph Airhart was honored on Tuesday by his fellow Chicago police officers.

On Tuesday, Airhart's family watched as his star was retired and made their first public statement thanking everyone for their support.

"Our focus at that time was to take care of Joseph as Joseph took care of us and the city," said Debra Airhart.

Watching Airhart's star being added to the wall of heroes was emotional for some of his colleagues, who remember him as a great cop and a great man.

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A few officers on hand were also his classmates at South Shore High School.

"Often times we try to create an aura around a person after they pass on that didn't exist. Joe was legitimately the guy that everybody praises," said Ernest Brown, Chicago police officer.

"His persona was everlasting. He'll always be in our heart," said John Doty, former Chicago police officer.

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In August of 2001, Airhart was shot in the head while trying to arrest suspected bank robber Daniel Salley. At the time, he was working on an FBI task force with Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis, who was then with the FBI.

"He was admired by every agent in the Chicago office from always being someone you could reach out to," said Supt. Weis.

Airhart died last November at the age of 53. His star, number 20931, joins 463 others representing police officers who have died in the line of duty.

"Yes, we retired his star today, but we'll never forget him. Simple as that," said Terry Hillard, former Chicago police superintendent.

Daniel Salley is serving a life sentence plus more than 100 years in prison for bank robbery and attempted murder.

With Airhart's death, his family can decide if they want to prosecutors to pursue murder charges against Salley. No decision has been made yet on that issue.


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