CPD mourns officer shot by own gun

July 8, 2010 9:30:57 PM PDT
The Chicago Police Department is mourning the death of an 11-year veteran of the force.

Officer Thor Soderberg, 43, was shot by a suspect who got a hold of his gun. He was shot outside the police facility near 61st and Racine as he left work.

The suspect in the shooting was recovering at Christ Hospital with non-life threatening injuries Thursday and has yet to be charged. Investigators continue to build a case against him, and charges could be filed against him at any time.

Officer Soderberg was assigned to the Education and Training Division. He was shot and killed with his own gun in a police facility parking lot Wednesday night. His friends and family say he was a giving person and a volunteer EMT who was always thinking of others first.

"Any time a police officer is taken from us, it's never easy," said Sgt. Jeff Schaaf of the Chicago Police Training Academy. "However, this one just seems to hurt a little more."

Schaaf and other officers remembered Soderberg for his generosity and his warm heart.

"He would give you the shirt off his back," said Schaaf. "He is probably one of the nicest human beings I ever met in my life and in my 16 years in the police department."

Soderberg is survived by his wife, Jennifer Loudon. She issued a statement through the Chicago Police Department Thursday evening.

"I am terribly devastated," said Loudon in the statement. She encouraged people wishing to help and honor Soderberg's memory to "start by taking care of every child."

"Every one of us can do a tremendous amount of good to impact a child, even one that isn't ours," Loudon said in her statement.

Click here to read the entire statement by Jennifer Loudon.

Soderberg's family has established The Thor Soderberg Fund - Connecting Youth with Nature for those wishing to honor his memory. The fund can be found online at the Chicago Community Trust's website, www.cct.org.

Soderberg occasionally worked the streets as part of a program called Operation Protect Youth. He also served in the military as a combat engineer in Operation Desert Storm.

Soderberg was being remembered Thursday at the Chicago Police Academy where he spent the last two years of his career training recruits. Some of his colleagues say he was always willing to help the recruits.

"He is a very offbeat, positive person, full of energy, full of life. And most always willing to step in, help. He could blend in with anybody in any situation," said Clyde Hudson, an instructor at the Chicago Police Academy.

A class Soderberg was teaching is graduating this week.

"Yesterday we interviewed recruits about the academy, about the good and bad things about the academy. His name came up many times in interviews, and they talked about how after work in his own time, during his lunch hour, he came into work with recruits," said Asst. Deputy Supt. Howard Lodding of the Education and Training Division.

On Thursday morning at the police academy, friends and colleagues hugged and raised flags to half staff to remember Soderberg. A mourning flag was also raised at police headquarters at 35th and Michigan.

"Not only was he an outstanding police officer but an outstanding human being. This city has suffered a major loss. This state, this country has suffered a major loss at his death. He was a great trainer here, a great friend," said Larry Shelly, an instructor at the Chicago Police Academy.

Soderberg's students remembered their teacher and the help that he gave them through his instruction.

"He has prepared all of us for this job, and I'm very confident in every single one of us in our class," said Michael Chatham, one of Soderberg's students. "We will make him proud."

Soderberg's former partner, Officer George Gill, II, said that Soderberg's giving personality extended to everyone he encountered.

"He was the type of person who would arrest you and five minutes later buy you a sandwich, give you his phone number, and say, 'if you ever need anything, give me a call,'" said Gill.

Officer Walter Metcalf, a friend of Soderberg's, said he admired him as a police officer and as a person.

"When it comes to being the police, he was probably one of the best police officers that you could meet," said Metcalf. "So we have lost not only a good officer but a true friend."

On and off the job, Metcalf and Soderberg were close.

"My wife is due to have a baby this month... she informed me that she wanted to have him be the godfather, and the reason is because of how he is inside," said Metcalf.

"We lost a brother in arms. Had you known him, you would have been proud to call him one of your own as well," said Mark Donahue, Fraternal Order of Police.

Soderberg had just ended his workday when he got into a confrontation with the suspect, who managed to take Soderberg's gun. Police say the suspect then fatally shot the officer.

"I heard a shot, and then there were five more shots after that. And then the police were flying back and forth," said Dennis Buckner.

After the shooting, the suspect was involved in an armed robbery nearby, which led to more gunfire when police caught up with the 24-year-old suspect. He was wounded in the shootout with officers.

"We saw a guy. He was shot. He was bleeding. They had handcuffs on him. He was bleeding from the mouth and face," said witness Robert Eddmonds.

In a tribute to their fallen comrade, fellow officers took part in as procession that stretched several blocks as they left the Englewood crime scene while an ambulance carried the officer's body.

Soderberg was recognized following the shooting for helping community members, including those who were visually impaired.

"He was the kind of person who would do everything possible to make everyone safe," said Mazen Istanbouli, a friend of Soderberg's.

Istanbouli is blind. Officer Soderberg guided Istanbouli through triathlons in Chicago and New York. Soderberg ran and swam by Istanbouli's side, and he also rode with him on a tandem bicycle during the races.

Istanbouli teaches political science at DePaul University. He met Soderberg four years ago.

On Thursday, those who knew Soderberg from his years volunteering with athletes with disabilities say that you could not meet a kinder man.

"He was ready to protect and serve the community," said Jane Heumann, a friend of Soderberg's. "You could not meet a more lovely lamb."

One of his fellow officers, Frank Rodriguez, echoed Heumann's characterization of Soderberg as a man with a kind and gentle heart.

"You walked away from him with an impression of just a loving soul - a loving spirit," said Rodriguez.

The day before he was shot, Soderberg was at the police union lodge donating blood.

Soderberg is the third Chicago police officer killed in the Englewood police district in the last 13 months.

Suspect's father: "Everything is... a shock to me"

The ordeal of Soderberg's shooting has left the suspect's family in shock.

Both relatives and neighbors describe the suspect as a "loner" who kept to himself and didn't talk much, especially to those he didn't know.

His father said he was supposed to be living with his mother, who recently moved to Milwaukee, but for some reason, he was not.

Although the suspect has been identified by relatives and police sources, ABC 7 is not revealing his name because he has not been charged with a crime.

"I don't believe it," the suspect's father said Thursday. "In disbelief - total disbelief."

The father said his son showed no signs he was having any problems in the days preceding the attack on Wednesday.

"If I had knew that this was going to happen, it probably wouldn't have happened, but I had no idea," said the father. "Everything is a shock... to me.)

The 67-year-old legally blind retired truck driver said the last time he spoke with the son suspected in Wednesday's shooting was on July 1st when he came by for a visit.

Authorities say his son shot and killed a veteran police officer and then ran off, only to attack another man.

Apartment janitor Richard Mints says he found himself in the sights of the suspect just moments after he is suspected of shooting Soderberg.

"He had this crazed look in his eye, but he really didn't say nothing," said Mints. "He just raised the gun up and started shooting."

"I just thank God I'm here, that's all I can say," said Mints.

The suspect was eventually shot by police trying to subdue him.

Investigators say the suspect has a criminal record that includes 19 arrests - including one for the Fourth of July, 2006 shooting of his own brother.

The suspect's father said that shooting was an accident.

The suspect was charged with aggravated battery in that incident, but the case was later dismissed.

While some who know the suspected offender describe him as having "mental health issues," his father was hesitant to agree Friday and attributed his son's strange behavior to drug abuse as he continues to support his child.

"What the people come up with and what I know are two different things," said the suspect's father.

The suspect's brother said the suspect remains under police guard and is hospitalized in critical but stable condition with a gunshot wound to the chest.

Relatives of the suspect also expressed their sorrow over the death of another Chicago police officer.

Recent CPD deaths

Officer Thomas Wortham IV was killed in May while he was off duty. Police say he was confronted by robbers and then shot outside his parents' South Side home.

Sgt. Alan Haymaker died in February on his way to a call. He lost control of his squad car on Lake Shore Drive.

Officer Alejandro Valadez was shot and killed in June 2009 while responding to a call on the South Side.


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