Cuauhtemoc Estrada, 50, was killed outside a family holiday party Friday night in west suburban Bellwood.
His family said around 7:30 p.m., Estrada saw two people trying to rob his daughter and her boyfriend at gunpoint while they were carrying food from a car. As Officer Estrada pulled out his gun to stop the robbers, he was shot in the chest. He died at the hospital.
Charges were filed early Monday against two suspects. Brandon Jackson and Gage Thornton, both 22, now face numerous counts, including first-degree murder charges. Police say they have good evidence against the two Bellwood men, but authorities would not share many details Monday. Prosecutors say Jackson was wearing a red hoodie and a ski mask at the time of the attack. Thornton allegedly wore a red jacket with blue sleeves.
Bellwood police say footprints in the snow led officers back to Jackson's house. When the men were arrested -- Jackson, who works at a moving company, was found with a black ski mask in the back pocket of his jeans. Police also found the distinctive jacket that Thornton, who works at a car wash, was allegedly wearing during the robbery. Detectives also say they recovered an empty gun box with cartridges missing.
Prosecutors say Jackson was the shooter and that the men said their intention was to rob someone that night. A judge denied bond for both men as they appeared in court Monday. Authorities said the suspects would be held in protective custody until their trial.
According to police, a surveillance camera at the crime scene was the key to unlocking the case. Jackson and Thornton were arrested six hours after they allegedly committed the crime. Police say both men are familiar with them due to their prior criminal records for offenses like shoplifting and breaking and entering.
"It's a very sad day. My heart goes out the Estrada family. It was a horrific crime and another example of the gun violence that we see way too often in Cook County," said State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Police say they have not recovered the gun used in the crime.
Estrada worked as an investigator for Cook County for more than two decades and was a former Marine. At the time of the shooting, he was hosting a family Christmas party at the VFW hall because he was scheduled to work on Christmas.
Family, friends and colleagues gathered for a vigil in his honor Sunday night as the suspects were being questioned, saying Estrada left a mark on so many people.
He was a father of four, grandfather of three, and will not be forgotten, his family promises.
"He was a great person," said daughter Desirae Estrada. "He was the best dad, but not only the best dad, he was my best friend. He taught me how to be brave, be strong and always succeed in life."
"He was always just saying 'be cool, be cool,'" niece Rocio Torres said. "That was his phrase. Anyone that knows him knows that's what he always said. We just always remember him for his quotes."
Estrada was killed just days before his mother's birthday.