Slain officer remembered as community leader

May 20, 2010 8:44:49 PM PDT
The public is learning more about a Chicago police officer who was shot and killed while off duty on the city's South Side Wednesday night.

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 is an indication of the grief felt by Wortham's fellow officers Thursday.

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.

The off-duty Chicago police officer survived two tours of duty in a war-torn Iraq and the mean streets of the city's Englewood neighborhood, only to be gunned down in the driveway of his parents' South Side home last night by a group of men allegedly trying to steal his motorcycle.

Sixth Ward Alderman Freddrenna Lyle has known Wortham and his family both personally and professionally for years. She 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 had 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 and walk the walk. He was a genuine individual. 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,'" said Keith Tate, Cole Park Advisory Council.

There's also grief at Brother Rice High School where the flag flies at half staff for the latest alumni to be lost. The death of Wortham, who graduated in 1998 and ran track and played soccer and football, comes almost a year after fellow graduate and Chicago cop, Officer Alejandro Valadez, a 2000 graduate, 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 was single and had been with the Chicago Police Department for three years. He'd 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 just sad. He was minding his own business. It's a shame you can't have nice things and people want to come and take them 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. My heart goes out to his mother and his fathe, their only son," 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.


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